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ROBERT DEAN FRfSEIE 



















Title: The Island of Desire (The Story of a South Sea Trader) Author: Robert 
Dean Frisbie (1895-1948) 


A number of years ago Robert Dean Frisbie set up a trading station on Danger 
Island, a lonely paradise four hundred miles northeast of Samoa. This 
autobiographical story relates how the author fell in love with a charming 
Polynesian girl, how he became part of the life of the island, how he eventually 
survived a man-sized South Sea hurricane. 

When Frisbie went to meet Desire under the magnolia trees, the islanders 
laughed about it, thinking they were having an affair. Constable Benny even 
arrested Desire on a charge of loitering after curfew. But when the American 
built a house and gave a house party for such friends as Parson Sea Foam, Vicar 
Araipu, Heathen William, and Desire’s many sisters, they saw that he was really 
in love. During the feast Frisbie and Desire were officially married. 

The next six years were wonderfully happy ones for both of them. Desire gave 
birth first to Johnny (a girl), then Jakey, Elaine, and Nga. The charm of their 
lives is spread before the reader with the miraculous color and texture of a 
Gauguin painting. Frisbie’s deep love for Desire, his portrayal of the glamorous 
South Seas, his bursts of affectionate humor, and his pride in his half-Polynesian 
“cowboys” play a part in this remarkable story. 


CONTENTS 


PART I DANGER ISLAND 

PART II THE HURRICANE 


CHARACTERS OF THIS BOOK 





PARTI 


ARAIPU: the vicar and storekeeper AUGUSTUS, HORATIO: the native 
resident agent AUGUSTUS, SUSANNA: his sanctimonious wife BENNY: 
constable of Central Village BONES: the satyr, father of Poaza and Strange-Eyes 
BOSUN-WOMAN: the village undertaker BRIBERY, DEACON: the crooked¬ 
legged tobacco addict BRIBERY, JR.: son of Deacon Bribery DESIRE: wife of 
Ropati EARS: constable of Leeward Village ELIHU: the supercargo FIRST¬ 
BORN: son of Parson Sea Foam JOHNNY (FLORENCE 
NGATOKORUAIMATAUEA) the author’s first child LETTER: a bloodthirsty 
deaf-mute LITTLE SEA: wife of a deacon LULUIA: the youth who insults the 
losers MALOKU: Desire’s half sister MAMA: Ropati’s cook, wife of William 
MISS LEGS: who sleeps in a house with loose floor boards MISS MEMORY: 
Desire’s fraternity name MISS TERN: The village Jezebel MISS WHITE 
TERN: Tangi’s fraternity name MR. BREADFRUIT: poker-playing councilman 
of Leeward Village MR. HORSE: one of Pio’s fraternity names MR. 
MANOWAR HAWK: another of Pio’s fraternity names MR. MOONLIGHT: 
Ropati’s fraternity name MR. SCRATCH: the old gentleman who doesn’t savvy 
much MRS. SCRATCH: wobbling wife of Mr. Scratch PATI: one of Desire’s 
sisters PILALA-WOMAN—a shriveled old termagant PIO: Tanges wonderboy 
of the cocolele RACHEL: daughter of Maloku ROPATI—the trader and author 
SEA FOAM: parson of Danger Island STRANGE-EYES: daughter of Bones 
TALA: mother of Desire TANGI: one of Desire’s sisters TIBBETTS—the 
politician who visited Danger Island TILI: Desire’s youngest sister VAEVAE: 
one of Desire’s sisters WILLIAM THE HEATHEN: blasphemer, whalerman, 
reprobate 



PART II 


ELAINE: Ropati’s third child JAKEY: Ropati’s only son, another cowboy 
JOHNNY: Ropati’s oldest child, one of the four “cowboys” NGA: Ropati’s 
youngest daughter, aged four OLI-OLI: cook aboard the Hurry Home POWELL, 
RONALD: of Palmerston Island, Pratt’s companion aboard the Vagus PRATT, 
JOHN: Englishman, owner of the Vagus PROSPECT, CAPTAIN: owner and 
navigator of the Hurry Home TAGI, FIRST MATE: second-in-command of the 
Hurry Home TAKATAKA, SECOND MATE: third member of the Hurry Home 
crew 



PART I DANGER ISLAND 


Chapter I 

In a past inconceivably remote it must have been the peak of a volcano, jutting 
from the midst of a sea whose solitude was broken only by flocks of migrating 
birds, a pod of sperm whales lumbering down from the Austral ice fields, or the 
intangible things of the mythic world; the spirits of Storm, Fair Weather, Night, 
Day, and Dawn. 

Coral polyps attached themselves to the steep walls of the volcano to build their 
submarine gardens a mile or more to sea, surrounding the island with a reef and 
shallow lagoon; then erosion, the battering of the Pacific combers, and 
subsidence, until finally the volcano had disappeared, leaving a blue lagoon 
shimmering in the sunlight, a barrier reef threaded with islets and sand cays; 
Danger Island, or PukaPuka—Land of Little Hills. 

So it was called by the first Polynesians who came here, centuries ago. It appears 
now much as it did then: a tiny place compared with the vastness of the sea 
surrounding it. The low hills, scarcely twenty feet high, are shaded by cordia and 
hernandia trees, groves of coconut palms, thickets of magnolia bushes; and 
between the hills he patches of level land where taro is grown in diked swamps 
and where the thatched houses are half obscured by clumps of bananas, gardenia 
bushes, and the gawky-limbed pandanus. 

There are three islets on the roughly triangular reef: Ko to the southeast; Frigate 
Bird to the southwest; and the main islet of Wale to the north. Ko and Frigate 
Bird are uninhabited eight months of the year, while on the crescent-shaped bay 
of Wale, facing southward toward the lagoon, are the three villages: Ngake, 

Roto, and Yato—or Windward, Central, and Leeward. 

The trading station is in Central Village. I, Ropati, live in its upstairs rooms, 
while the two downstairs rooms have been vacant since the station was closed. 
The building is glaringly white, shaped like a packing case, has an asbestos- 
cement roof, balconies in front and back, and, leading from the balconies to the 
living quarters, doorways just high enough so I can crack my head against the 
lintels. 



Across the village road from the station stands the schoolhouse, another boxlike 
coral building, but with a thatch roof, pleasing to the eye. The great glaringly 
ugly church, with its red iron roof, stands to one side of the schoolhouse, while 
elsewhere, to east and west, lagoonward and inland, are the Central Village 
houses, all save Araipu’s native store, attractively built of wattle and thatch. 

The rumbling sound that rises and falls fitfully is not caused so much by the surf 
on the outer reef as it is by the snores of my six hundred and fifty neighbors. All 
are asleep, for it is midday and they must be refreshed for the night’s toil ahead. 
There is old Mr. Scratch, Deacon Bribery, and Bones piping off the watches 
under a coconut tree. There is William the Heathen folded on my woodbox, his 
head between his bony knees. There is pretty Miss Strange-Eyes, daughter of 
Bones, without any clothes at all, fast asleep in a canoe, while a rooster on one 
of the crossbeams stares at her perplexed. And there is Constable Benny, 
growling like Cerberus as he guards the village in his dreams. 

I walk on tiptoe to the lagoon beach lest I waken the toil-exhausted neighbors; 
but even here there are scores of toddlers, aged one to ten, fast asleep in the 
shady places. 

The beach of the big crescent-shaped bay is not very attractive. The sand is 
scarcely white, and there is plenty of mbbish strewn about; but the bay itself and 
the lagoon beyond are clean, blue, sparkling, enticing. Almost daily I explore its 
submarine mountain ranges and chase the grotesquely beautiful fish among its 
crevices and caverns. 

Today I follow the beach, first eastward, then gradually to the south. The great 
piles of plaited fronds are coverings for canoes; the dash of red is the iron roof of 
Araipu’s store; Miss Legs sleeps over yonder, in the little house with unnailed 
floor boards that can be pushed up from below if one is lonely and wants to talk 
to Miss Legs. 

hollowing the curved beach, I leave Central Village, then turn inland to stop at 
an excavation ten feet deep and one hundred yards across. It is green with taro 
leaves that undulate under the puffs of wind; along its border are gardenia 
bushes. The Windward Village girls stop here, on moonlight nights, to gather 
flowers for their hair before proceeding to the Place of Love. 


After skirting the taro bed and walking a little farther through the groves I come 



to the southeast point of the main islet—the Point of Utupoa. Here the coconut 
trees give place to pandanus, then to magnolia and pemphis bushes, then to pure- 
white sand with an occasional greasy-leaved tournefortia bush; and finally the 
sand spills out in the shallows. 

Southward from the Point of Utupoa, at low tide, there is a brick-red highway, a 
quarter of a mile wide and four miles long, leading to a similar point on the far 
islet of Ko. On the east side of this highway the reef combers form an azure- 
tinted wall that rises and subsides and roars unceasingly; on the other side is the 
lagoon, while a half mile across the lagoon is another highway, or shallows, this 
one leading from the southwest point of the main islet to Frigate Bird Islet. 

It is here at Utupoa that the children come to fly their kites; it is under the big 
tournefortia bush that I spend many an afternoon with M. Michel de Montaigne; 
it is in the deep pool in the shallows that the village girls duck and turn 
somersaults, that the wild youth cool their heated bodies, that the Seventh-Day 
Adventist missionary once a year baptizes his converts; it is here at Utupoa that 
the Windward Village youths and maidens come on moonlight nights to dance 
and sing—in a word, this is one of the many places of love. 

The sunlight reflected from the sand hurts my eyes. I leave the point to walk 
along the east side of the islet, at the edge of the pandanus trees, where it is 
shady; and presently I pass Windward Village, which stretches from the outer 
beach across an arm of the islet to the lagoon beach. The houses are not very 
interesting and the place is not very tidy, but I make a little detour inland so as to 
steal a wistful glance at Desire, the prettiest Mongolian-eyed girl in the South 
Seas. She sits in her cookhouse, clothed only in a strip of cloth around her waist; 
and she does not try to cover herself when I approach, for she is an innocent 
virgin, bless her! If I ever marry, I hope it will be to a girl like Desire. After 
telling her this I move back to the beach to pass the stronghold of Christian 
puritanism: the residence of Horatio and Susanna Augustus, the native resident 
agent et ux. 

The Augustuses are high-island natives, missionary educated, too sanctimonious 
for my taste, living evidence of the disastrous result of attempting to civilize 
primitive people. They speak a little English and, as schoolteachers, try to teach 
it to the children. So far—seven years—they have taught only a few of the 
brighter scholars that good morning differs from good-by. A couple of days ago 
on the causeway I met a boy of sixteen who solemnly took off his hat, bowed 



stiffly, and in perfect seriousness greeted me with “Oh ... yes!” spoken slowly, 
with a longish pause between the words. However, the Augustuses believe they 
are doing a noble work in teaching English. 

They treat me with respect though they are convinced that their government 
position elevates them above a mere epicurean beachcomber. When I visit them 
they make a pretense of European culture, such as serving weak tea and 
remarkable scones flavored with banana extract, but at other times they are 
simply a native family living in a wattle-and-thatch house on the outer beach. I 
am, as formerly, the only white man on the island. 

Ahead of me, now, is a mile of straight, high beach, unbroken save for a group of 
huts used by Central Village when the island reserves are opened for the copra 
makers. A stretch of brick-red coral, one hundred yards wide, lies between the 
beach and the barrier reef, which last, now that I am on the windward side of the 
island, blusters, shakes its white mane, roars mightily. Beyond is the sea, and the 
horizon clouds, and the fluffy little balls of cotton wool separating themselves 
from the eastern rack to scud cockily overhead. 

Note how the coconut fronds and the pandanus leaves are flung out horizontally 
in the wind. Note the misty wraiths of reef spray drifting up the beach and into 
the jungle. Fill your lungs with the clean salty smell of the sea! Would you 
exchange this for U.S.H.A., Unit 168-b, or even for the flashiest apartment in 
Metropolis? 

The white pebble beach is hurting my eyes, for there is no shade, and at the edge 
of the trees the beach is covered with lumps of coral too jagged for my bare feet. 
So through the magnolia bushes I follow a path laid with steppingstones and 
enter the refreshingly cool shade of the atoll jungle to come to a path leading 
parallel to the outer beach. Now and then I pass a deserted hut, and taro beds 
bordered by banana plants and gardenia bushes. I pick blossoms to put behind 
my ears. No one is in sight; the place seems to have been deserted for months. 
Inland, doves coo in a note of infinite sadness, and sometimes one flaps noisily 
among the hernandia trees. Lizards and mice scurry over the fallen fronds; land 
crabs wave their claws at the passer-by; ghost terris flutter like butterflies in the 
shadows—but there is no human being save myself. 

Just now the inland groves and taro beds are closed. Central Village has put a 
tapu on them so the people will not steal the nuts or kill the nesting birds. Only a 



white man dares violate this tapu; if a native did so, the Goddess Taira would 
cause him to fall when he climbs a coconut tree or would cause death by a tumor 
in the armpit. 

I pick from the ground a young coconut the size of a crab apple; then, tearing a 
leaf from an overhanging frond, with my fingernail I cut away the tough but 
pliant midrib and jab the thick end of it into the immature coconut. It is my 
intention to take it home for some village child to play with, but the temptation 
to play myself is too great, so, swinging it round my head, I let it fly into the air 
—as children catapult crab apples with a willow stick. It soars over the highest 
coconut trees to land in the shore bush. I grin, delighted, and start breaking my 
way through the bush to retrieve my toy. Do I look silly with a gardenia blossom 
behind my ear, flinging immature coconuts into the air? Well, we get that way on 
the atolls; many of the inhibitions of our civilized training are happily lost. 

Here is the toy, and here is a wide avenue leading to the Point of Smoking Seas. I 
walk down the avenue, for the gloomy groves are uncanny and the loneliness 
preys on my spirits. Beyond the shore bush the wind, the roar of crashing seas, 
the smell of the ocean break suddenly on my senses. 

The trading station is now due south; I am halfway round the islet. Here the 
barrier reef is close to the beach, forming a point sharper than a right angle. 
Beyond the point, over a shoal stretch of sea bottom, the current meets the 
Pacific rollers and they pile up in a furious maelstrom. The sight sometimes 
frightens me. Staring at the rearing, plunging patch of sea, I recall how Satyr 
Bones swam into it to rescue his woman, who had been washed over the reef. 
Somehow he lived, but the woman was dead when, like a hairy sea beast, he 
dragged her out of the breakers. 

Beyond the Point of Smoking Seas I pass another group of copra makers’ huts, 
then walk doggedly along the beach, which curves gradually to the west and 
south. Though my eyes pain me, I grin and bear it, for there is no parallel path 
inland; and the sand seems less glaringly white when I recall that here, on 
moonlight nights, is pagan loveliness; here is where the youths and maidens of 
Central and Leeward villages come for their nightlong dances, their singing, and 
their love-making. Alas! now under the disillusioning sunlight I can see only 
little paths leading into the magnolia bushes— leading to the love nests of the 
young unmarried. 



At the edge of the shallows is a conglomerate of sand and shells that has 
somehow caked into a limestone-like rock so that the wild youth can carve their 
names for posterity to read: Mr. Horse, Mr. Coconut, Jack Dempsey, Eagle-wing, 
Mr. Banana, Messrs. Achilles and Ajax, Mr. Casanova; Princess X, Miss White 
Tern, Miss Flower, Miss Love, Miss Mermaid, Miss Memory— fraternity names 
that the young people take when they enter the House of Youth or the House of 
Young Women—between puberty and marriage. 

A little farther along the outer beach and I come suddenly to Yato-Leeward 
Village. I have nearly finished the circuit of the main islet. 

Yato Point is on the west side of the crescent-shaped bay. A half mile away is the 
Point of Utupoa, where I stood a couple of hours ago; and here is the wide reef 
highway leading to Frigate Bird Islet, flooded now, for the tide is coming in; and 
there, on the outer edge of the reef, is the beacon of the boat passage, while 
beyond it, at sea, is the offing where the trading schooners lie. Far out at sea, to 
the southwest, breakers are sometimes visible; they are on Te Arai Reef, which 
stretches four miles due west from Frigate Bird and ends in a barren sand cay. 

Leeward Village is spotlessly clean. About half the houses are built of chipped 
coral blocks; the rest are of wattle and thatch, with one red iron roof where an 
Aitutaki carpenter lives. This prominent citizen came here to remove the only 
beautiful feature from our church, the thatch roof, and put a galvanized iron one 
in its place. During the four years of exhausting toil required to complete this 
great innovation, the carpenter fell in love with a Leeward Village maiden. Now 
she has claimed him: he is happily lost forever. All day long he sweats in his 
iron-roofed house, and, judging by the husky and wanton appearance of his wife, 
all night long too. 

On the east side of Yato Point I stop to glance at my house site and for the 
thousandth time visualize the wattle-and-thatch palace I have always planned to 
build here. I feel the cool trade wind blowing on me from across the bay; I hear 
the wind singing in the palm fronds, and the thundery combers far away on the 
Point of Smoking Seas; I gaze across the lagoon toward Frigate Bird Islet, Ko 
Islet, the eastern reef, Utupoa Point, the cloud mountains of the sky, the entire 
littoral of the bay, the villages, the causeway, and the fishpond beyond it. This is 
indeed an Ogygian place for a renegade Ulysses to forget the world, and eat 
lotus, and love a South Sea Calypso. 



The causeway is six feet high, six wide, and about three hundred yards long. 
Made of coral blocks gray with age, it stretches across an arm of the bay from 
Leeward to Central Village, and thus it fences off a fishpond belonging to 
Leeward Village and full of milk mullet and young turtles. 

When a trading schooner is in the offing and the hard-doers of the South Seas are 
drinking deeply they habitually fall from the causeway into the fishpond. In fact 
groups of natives often camp at one end of the causeway solely to observe South 
Sea traders falling into the fishpond, when, the natives having had their money’s 
worth, they become a rescue gang. 

Safely across the causeway, I enter the walled compound of Parson Sea Foam. I 
smile at his pretty daughters, examine his huge coral-lime parsonage with its 
silly little four-foot verandas in front and in back, and shake hands and yarn for a 
little space with the parson himself. He is partially bald, has pendulous cheeks, 
several chins, and elephantiasis. Presently he swings an elephantiac leg through 
the doorway, follows it, then reappears with an ancient tin of beans. He gives it 
to me, with a suitable text—for he is always giving me perished provisions, 
which in turn I bury quickly, before they explode. 

Finally I pass the hut of that terrible loudmouthed creature, Pilala-woman; then 
the house of First-Born, son of Sea Foam; and at last I enter my own cookhouse 
at the lagoon side of the trading station, where old Mama has the teakettle 
boiling and greets me with an interrogative smile. 

To me several features of this walk have seemed remarkable. There has been an 
appearance and a feeling of cleanness. I have been aware of the sea as an 
enclosing presence, both sheltering and dangerous. But, most important, I have 
noticed that the atoll belongs to the organic world; it is a living island. Some 
stretches of beach have appeared to be fine yellow sand, but if I had examined it 
closely I should have found that each grain was a minute shell or the skeleton of 
a coral polyp. Think of the untold billions of creatures that have lived and died 
for ages to build up a coral atoll! And think of the untold billions of creatures 
that are laboring even now, as I close my journal, so that Danger Island may 
grow slowly upward at precisely the same rate that the sea bottom subsides! 

Here is a land becoming rather than one become, a land functioning in Time 
rather than in Space! 


The other morning Araipu, who is both the storekeeper and vicar of PukaPuka 



Atoll, came to the cookhouse while I was having coffee. I asked him to join me, 
which he did; but before he had tasted his coffee he started talking about 
Abraham. 

“This Abraham,” he said, “worshiped the sun. He was a heathen like William. 

He would get up in the morning at dawn”—here Araipu pointed to the sun rising 
over the coconut trees of Windward Village—“and would pray to the sun! He 
thought the sun was a god! He was a foolish heathen like that old fellow 
William!” 

“I don’t recall anything about Abraham worshiping the sun,” I broke in. “It isn’t 
in the Bible, is it?” 

“No,” Araipu replied; “I read it in a book Parson Sea Foam brought from Tahiti. 
The book says that Abraham would kneel facing the east, and bow down to the 
sun, like this,” and here the vicar bowed. 

“Araipti, let’s go for a picnic. I’m fed up with sanctimonious resident agents, 
village smells, noise, heat. Let’s go bird hunting on Frigate Bird Islet.” 

“He had a son called Isaac,” Araipu went on, paying me not the slightest 
attention; “and when Abraham was an old man, and had learned how foolish it 
was to worship the sun, he agreed to sacrifice Isaac to Jehovah. Then the Lord 
was very pleased, and gave Abraham great power. Abraham could command the 
east wind, ‘Blow from the north!’ and the east wind would switch round to the 
north. Or Abraham could command the hurricane, ‘Stop blowing!’ or ‘Blow 
easy!’ and the hurricane would stop blowing or blow easy. You see, he got all his 
power because he stopped worshiping the sun and started worshiping the True 
God instead.” 

A hundred yards from the station Bone’s daughter Strange-Eyes was bathing at 
the back of her house without any clothes or shelter. So naturally I stared at her. 
Pretty soon Araipu found he had lost my attention. Turning his head, he saw 
Strange-Eyes in a lather of soapsuds. 

“Hm!” the vicar muttered, and shook his head meditatively for a little time; then, 
brightening, “David was of the seed of Abraham,” he said. 


Tentatively I mentioned that David had seen a beautiful maiden bathing. 



“Yes, of course,” Araipu interrupted quickly; “that was Bathsheba, the wife of 
Uriah the Hittite.” Then he started telling how David had sent Uriah into the 
front of battle so he should be killed; but again I interrupted, this time to suggest 
our immediate departure for Frigate Bird. 

Araipu vaguely consented, as though he would of course go with me to the islet, 
but the sail four miles across the lagoon would be only incidental to a flowing 
comment on the seed of Abraham, which apparently he would talk about for the 
next few days, oblivious betimes to all else in the physical world. 

I told my old cook Mama I was going. Then we launched Araipu’s canoe and 
brought it round to the trading station. We stepped the mast and took aboard a 
basket of provisions as well as a pound of twist tobacco for the Leeward 
villagers, who were temporarily living on the islet. When our sail was set and we 
had moved a few yards from the beach there was a great screaming ashore. We 
saw old Bosun-woman dashing down the beach, a basket of taro on her head, a 
bundle of clothes in her hands. We dug our paddles in the sandy bottom to hold 
back the canoe and waited for her to wade out. 

“The taro is for Pilala-woman!” she screamed, her lips within an inch of my ear. 
“The clothes are for Bones!” 

“Better come along with us,” I suggested ironically. 

“Whee-ee!” she screamed—the Puka-Pukan ejaculation. “Me go to Frigate Bird! 
I’ve never been there once!” 

Think of it! A woman living on this island for some seventy years and never 
visited Frigate Bird Islet, four miles across the lagoon! It reminds me of a pair of 
darling old maids who lived near our ranch in the foothills of California. They 
were in their forties, alone on a farm only a few miles from Fresno, the lights of 
which place they could see, on a clear night, from a hill beyond their house—yet 
they had never been to Fresno nor to any city! Once I tried to take them, and I 
remember that one old dear couldn’t go because she had a hen setting and her 
sister was “no hand at poultries”; the other one couldn’t go because she was 
afraid to leave her sister alone—“something might happen.” So it is with lots of 
Puka-Pukans. We have only three islets on this reef, yet many of the neighbors 
have set foot on only one. 

Well, it must be otherwise with the coming generation, for while Bosun-woman 



was screaming at us a half-dozen urchins, aged three to seven, came charging 
down the beach, splashed out to our canoe, and, naked and without luggage, 
tumbled aboard. God knows whose children they were. 

“Where are you going?” I asked like a silly white man. 

“I dunno,” a squint-eyed Tartar replied. “Where you going?” 

“We are going to Frigate Bird Islet.” 

“That suits me,” said the hoyden, and apparently the others concurred, for they 
didn’t even discuss the matter. Picking up paddles or using their hands, they sent 
the canoe scudding out of the lee of the land. 

Lucky we were to have those extra hands, for presently we saw coming down 
the beach the rest of the gang, about fifty strong—and their noise was like the 
yelping of a pack of coyotes, I pulled in the sheet, we dug our paddles in the 
water, and escaped by the skin of our teeth. Dozens of the urchins plunged in the 
bay and tried to overtake us, but, what with our half-dozen wild man-eating 
sailors, we managed to escape. 

That’s the way with the Puka-Pukan toddlers. They run over this island like a 
vandal horde controlled, I’ll swear, by a sort of group impulse. Perhaps a few of 
the women know to whom certain toddlers belong; it is even possible that fathers 
can isolate their own brats and name them. Araipu was pretty certain of the 
names of two of our sailors, but he admitted that he was better versed in the seed 
of Abraham than in the seed of his neighbors. 

Soon the wind took hold of our sail; we dodged about the coral beads, scudded 
through a crooked passage leading to the lagoon, and drove like a racing yacht— 
faster than a racing yacht—toward Frigate Bird Islet, the urchins whooping so 
loudly that Araipu didn’t have half a chance to get a word in edgewise about 
Abraham. Within thirty minutes we had nosed the canoe’s bow into the beach of 
the far islet. 

Four and a half seconds before the canoe touched the shore six naked toddlers 
described six graceless parabolas in six different directions. Some landed like 
spiders—all arms and legs—in the water; one or two landed on the beach; but, 
wheresoever they landed, within another four and a half seconds not a single one 
was in sight. For a little space we could hear them yelling as they plundered land 



crabs, coconuts, mummy apples—or as they flung stones at fledglings, terns, 
boobies. Presently they would be breaking the law by broiling young birds and 
gorging themselves with burnt flesh and coconuts. 

Constable Ears, who alone met us, eyed with displeasure the streaks of brown 
skin cutting across the beach and into the bush. “They should not have come to 
our islet,” he said severely; then he scowled, raised his eyebrows in a manner 
almost sanctimonious, and approached to shake hands with Araipu and me. 

The constable is tall, long-faced, very very serious in all things, and given to 
long silences before replying to the simplest questions. If one asks him, “When 
do we eat?” or “Will it rain?” or “What do you think of the universe” Ears will 
knit his brow, gaze meditatively nowhere, cock his head to one side, and, after a 
full moment of silence, reply gravely: “Now,” or “Perhaps,” or “I think it is a 
good thing.” 

Not another soul was in sight. This annoyed me, for usually when I go to Frigate 
Bird Islet the young men run into the shoal water, pick up my canoe with me in 
it, and carry it ashore. Being accustomed to this kind of a welcome, I was peeved 
when only the constable met us; in fact I was on the point of stepping the mast in 
the other end of the canoe and returning to the main islet. I said as much to 
Araipu; but Ears, overhearing me, assured me that the inhabitants would be 
overjoyed at my coming, but just now they were playing cricket, so of course 
they could not welcome me with songs, dances, wreaths of gardenias, and 
welcoming orations. 

I should have understood this at once, but for some reason my pride was hurt. In 
a huff I walked through the deserted copra makers’ village, following the sound 
of whoops, groans, and guffaws; and presently, in a little clearing, I came upon 
the hundred and fifty people of Leeward Village, playing or watching a studied 
game of cricket. Two or three men glanced at me in a vaguely preoccupied way, 
then jerked their heads around to watch the game. Happy-go-lucky old Tapipi, 
his eyes shifting between me and the players, explained hurriedly that for six 
hours they had been playing to decide which half of the village should gather 
coconuts tomorrow for the other half. I then realized that if the British Navy 
were target practicing in the offing no one would leave the game. Like children 
that can play for two hours but cannot work for two minutes, these atoll people 
can play cricket all day to determine who shall work an hour tomorrow. I 
mentioned as much to Tapipi. He knitted his brow, pondered my words, and 



finally opined that it would be hard work gathering coconuts tomorrow, for the 
people would be stiff and tired from the cricket game. 

Presently I went to the parson’s house, and there I found Araipu telling Ears 
about the seed of Abraham, while betimes the constable scowled and nodded his 
head gravely. 

“You see those coconut trees,” the vicar was saying, pointing through the open 
side of the house to where straight rows of young trees stretched seaward. “All 
those trees to the right are bearing nuts, and all the trees to the left are barren.” 

“Maybe it would be a good idea to drive some spikes in the barren ones,” I 
suggested. “The rusty iron sometimes makes them bear.” 

Araipu eyed me severely and mumbled something about driving spikes into 
Sarah; then I divined that I had broken into a carefully planned metaphor, so I 
held my peace. 

“Yes, they are barren,” the constable said. “And yet the fmitful trees and the 
barren trees were planted at the same time. They are twenty-four years old.” 

“It may be many years before they bear,” the vicar said. “They may not bear 
until they are ninety years old... . You needn’t snicker, Ropati. If you read your 
Bible you would know that Sarah laughed when the Lord told her she would 
have a child in her old age—but she had one just the same. That was Isaac, the 
half brother of Ishmael. He married Rebekah and had two sons by her, Esau and 
Jacob ...” 

“The game’s finished!” Ears exclaimed suddenly, jumping to his feet. “My half 
of the village has won!”, 

“How do you know?” 

“Can’t you hear them?” 

“I can hear only a noise like a massacre of the seed of Abraham,” I replied; then, 
as Araipu beamed on me, I watched the constable dash toward the cricket 
ground, his long legs and arms swinging, his head thrust forward. A moment 
later the vicar and I followed with the leisurely dignity befitting strangers. We 
arrived just in time to see the grand ceremony of “insulting the losers.” 



At the far side of the clearing stood the winners in attitudes of Roman 
conquerors, while under the trees, in groups hushed and expectant, sat the entire 
remaining population, including, of course, the losers. First-Born moved to the 
front of the winning team, squatted on the ground, and rattled off a dance rhythm 
with a pair of sticks on his homemade cricket bat; then the important young man, 
Luluia, walked mincingly, affecting timidity, to the center of the glade. The 
dance tempo became more rapid, and Luluia, flinging out his arms, seemed with 
the same gesture to fling away his timidity. With brazen effrontery he went 
through contortions that I shall call “dancing” for lack of a better word. It was 
utterly obscene and insulting—and was enjoyed by winners and losers alike. 

After the first “dance” Luluia walked back and forth between the wickets, 
shouting, “Aha! ... I? ... Who am I?” He paused to laugh in a way that reminded 
me of a villain in a cheap melodrama. “I? ... Who am I? ... Ask the losers ... 
Ask the winners ... Ask the frigate birds that roost in the hernandia trees ... Ask 
the fish in the sea! Who am I? ... I am Lu-lu-i-a!” Here he made an awful noise, 
something between a bellow and a shriek, then continued: “I am Lu-lu-i-a! I am 
the man that made the most runs today! I am the man that blackened the faces of 
the losers! I am Lu-lu-i-a! ... Yip! ... Wow! ... Whoop!” and with that the 
cricket-bat drum sounded again, while the champion—oh well, he “danced.” 

Presently the people returned to their village, two hundred paces away, but 
Araipu held me back. “Give them time,” he whispered. “They will want to greet 
us in a becoming manner, like the sons of Jacob were greeted by Joseph the 
second time they went into Egypt.” 

“We’ll walk this way and come up to the village from the lagoon beach.” 

And so we did, Araipu betimes giving me some further details concerning 
Joseph’s brethren. 

We found every last villager awaiting us, and every one of them in an awkward, 
expectant attitude. They stood in groups, as though they had casually met, were 
passing the time of day, and had not the foggiest idea that Ropati himself had 
arrived with no less a person than the vicar. When we were close to them they 
glanced up suddenly, as though at a prearranged signal, and, “Hello!” they 
exclaimed. “It is Ropati! It is Araipu!” Their faces wreathed in smiles, they 
mshed forward, relieved from the anticipatory waiting, hands outstretched. 



“When the King of Israel visited the Pharaoh of Egypt,” the vicar cried, “he sent 
his spokesman before him, bearing presents for Pharaoh—jars of honey, spices, 
gems, frankincense, and myrrh. Thus he softened the heart of Pharaoh... . Now 
Ropati has come to your islet to hunt sea birds with the young men of your 
village, and he has sent me, his spokesman, before him, bearing this pound of 
Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco so that your hearts may be softened toward 
him.” 

Araipu then handed the package of twist to the “supercargo” of Leeward Village, 
and Immediately we turned to hurry away. As we left the village we could hear 
the supercargo shouting: 

“Gather by the House of Youth! The old men! The first-born! The deacons! The 
fathers! The youths! the naked ones! Gather by the House of Youth! We are 
dividing a pound of Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco presented by the King of 
Israel to the Pharaoh of Egypt!” 

There were whoops of laughter, and bellows of delight from tobacco-hungry old 
men; then the atoll jungle deadened the sound. We moved inland, following a 
crooked path; the branches of cordia and hernandia trees met overhead, and 
above them interlaced the fronds of coconut palms; below was an undergrowth 
of bird’s-nest ferns, magnolia bushes, pipturus, and pandanus, walling us in. 

Presently we entered the clearing where Leeward Village’s lime tree grows, then 
moved on to the outer beach and followed it to Pilato the androgyne’s Place of 
Love. The Place was deserted; it seemed almost drab in the afternoon sunlight; it 
would waken to life and beauty when the moonlight slanted across the magnolia 
bushes, gleamed on the white coral sand, and the dancers were there. Leaving 
the Place, we walked around the islet’s west point and returned by an inland 
path. It was night by then, but the moon lighted our way. Araipu left me, to 
follow the lagoon beach to the parson’s house, while I wandered among the 
houses, wondering if I could escape the vicar and spend the night in the House of 
Youth. I decided I couldn’t, so I turned toward the community house, in the 
center of the village, and, crawling in, stretched out on a heap of logs used as 
seats by the Village Lathers. 

I could see the copra makers’ huts lit up fitfully by tiny fires. Each open-sided 
hut had a sleeping platform raised a foot or two off the ground. They looked like 
the counters in a shooting gallery or a hoopla concession. No; they were 



platforms in the cages of a zoo. Over yonder sat gorilla-like Bones, staring 
sullenly out of the open side of his house, firelight from coconut shells flashing 
on his huge and hairy face. And there was lion-maned King-of-the-Sky, 
recumbent on his platform, a veritable Lion of Lucerne. And there was old Mr. 
Scratch, a baboon if ever there was one. The hippopotamuslike Sacred Maid 
moved sluggishly about the Great House of King Toka, while shrew-like, Pilala- 
woman, in her cage to seaward, screamed at the passers-by; and close to the 
community house, in the House of Youth, a dozen monkey boys chattered and 
laughed and ogled the monkey girls in the adjoining House of Young Women. 

One of the youths left the house to dive into the community house and alight 
beside me, on hands and knees, his face within a few inches of mine. “Come to 
the House of Youth tomorrow night,’ Ropati,” he whispered. “After the bird 
hunting, when the south reef is dry, the girls of Ko Islet will come to our Place of 
Love!” 

Then he was gone, a shadow blown through the fitful night. I thought of little 
auburn-haired Desire and wondered if she would be among those who crossed 
the south reef at low tide. 

Then I felt incapable of thinking of anything, even of Desire, for I was at peace 
with the whole world. Everything was good: the lions and monkeys, the sound of 
surf beating on the outer reef, the smell of grilling fish. The light puffs of wind 
were just cool enough to add to my feeling of well-being. There were no 
mosquitoes. The voices of the villagers did not come in the usual undisciplined 
screams, or, if they did, I did not mind it. My nerves were asleep. When I rolled 
a cigarette and smoked it slowly the tobacco tasted fragrant, mellow, delicious. 
The flashing fires, which usually hurt my eyes, now had a lulling effect. The 
hard logs beneath me, pressing into my back, my head, my legs, only added to 
my sensuous enjoyment. 

A little girl of about four years came toddling along the road, crawled into the 
community house, stared at me for a little space, and then cuddled close beside 
me. She seemed as happy as I. She did not find it necessary to speak; she simply 
lay by me, communing with me in spirit. Then the toddler snuggled closer; then 
she threw her little body across me and almost instantly fell asleep. 


Now that I could not courteously or conveniently rise and leave, I should have 
felt ill at ease; but through some rational quirk of the brain I continued to feel at 



peace with the world. I appreciated the pretty confidence of this child. I felt her 
to be an old friend who had come to me for security and sleep. I was nearly 
asleep myself when Constable Ears stalked past the Great House and, stopping 
by the House of Youth, asked my whereabouts. Having been told, he came to the 
community house and called my name. 

“Yes.” 

Ears cleared his throat, nodded thoughtfully for a full minute, then told me that a 
feast had been prepared and was awaiting me in the parson’s house. 

“All right,” I replied. “I will come when I can find someplace to put this child.” 

“Child, you said? What child? Whose child?” 

“Take her to her mama,” I added. “She is lying on top of me.” 

With a good deal of diffidence Ears crawled under the eaves. When he was close 
I grasped his hand and laid it on the toddler. 

“Oh!” he muttered. “It’s a baby!” Then gruffly, affecting anger, he shouted: 
“Here’s a child! Here’s somebody’s brat annoying Ropati! Whose brat is this? 
Has anybody lost a child?” 

“Bring it to the fire! ” Pilala-woman screamed. 

Ears carried the child to the shrew’s fire and leaned over so the light was on the 
child’s face. Then he straightened up, and, in an apologetic tone, “Oh! I see it’s 
mine!” he muttered. “Hey! Woman! Come here, woman! Take away the brat!” 

“I hope you’re not annoyed,” I said when the constable had returned. 

“Oh no,” he muttered in an absent-minded way. “But I came here to tell you 
something, and now I’ve forgotten it.” 

“Food?” I queried. 

“Ah yes, that’s it! You are to feast at the parson’s house.” 

Araipu and I had expected to rough it in the South Seas, but the villagers had 



thought differently. When we had left to watch the insulting of the losers the 
house had been empty, for the parson himself was on the main islet. Now it was 
furnished. Mats covered the coral-gravel floor; there were pillows whose slips 
were embroidered with all the flowers of the field and the flags of the nations; 
there were patchwork quilts; a lantern swung, flickered, and smoked from one of 
the tirbeams, and spread under the eaves was a picnic for a gourmand. 

The villagers were aware that they had served us well. They told us about it. The 
dancer Luluia gave a before-dinner speech in which he modestly omitted 
mentioning himself but spoke instead of the generosity of his village. 

“When the King of Israel visited the Pharoah of Egypt,” Luluia shouted, 
“Pharaoh set before him all the choice delicacies of his realm! Here is food for 
the King of Israel and his spokesman the Vicar Araipu! Here is coconut sauce! 
Here are drinking nuts! Here are grilled sea birds, lobsters, and fish! Here are 
taros, bananas, utos, mummy apples! Here is a basin of water, and smell soap, 
and a towel! When you have feasted you can wash your hands, then lie back on 
our mats, with our lantern lighting your house; and you can smoke and gossip 
until our maidens come to sing you to sleep!” 

There being a vicar among us, Luluia then gave a few short and snappy texts. 
Araipu replied with some appropriate remarks about manna in the wilderness, 
and we fell to. 

The people left while we were picnicking. When we had eaten our fill we 
gathered the remnants in frond food mats and hung them to the tic beams; then 
we lay down to cigarettes and sleep. 

Some toddlers came to the house during the night to sleep here, there, or most 
anyplace—or, better, they went to sleep here, rolled about the house from here to 
there, and woke up in the morning most anyplace. A strong wind came up; the 
coconut trees beat their wings against the sky; but in the morning Araipu woke 
me with a cheerful, “The sun is up, Ropati! Did I tell you that the sun was the 
God of Abraham?” and then he kept doggedly on the ancient Hebrew 
genealogies until we had finished our breakfast and I had escaped from him. 

“The young men! The tree climbers! The bird hunters! Gather at the Point of 
Hernandia Trees tonight! The King of Israel and the Pharaoh of Egypt will go a- 
hunting tonight! Gather at the Point of Hernandia Trees! The young men! The 



tree climbers! The bird hunters!” 


At sundown thirty of us walked from the copra makers’ village to the western 
point, where for a little space we lay on the beach between the wall of hernandia 
trees and the shallows. The great combers rolling across the barrier reef, a 
hundred yards away, thundered mightily, but they did not drown the lonely cries 
of the thousands of boobies, terns, and frigate birds circling over us, flock above 
flock, until they were lost in the confused cloud masses that streaked and 
blotched the sky. 

“The birds are roosting,” someone said; then, later: “Look—the tops of the trees 
are black with them!” 

They were a strange sight, belonging to the world of demonology. Lying on the 
beach, with my binocular to my eyes, I could see on the topmost branches of the 
hernandia trees crowds of boobies, frigate birds, and terns. The frigate birds 
were seizing the places of honor. Often one would flap down to a twig where a 
booby was roosting and make a great to-do until he had frightened the booby 
away and taken the perch for himself. Black, long-beaked, evil-eyed, the frigate 
birds stared this way and that, stretched their necks and spread their wings as 
though to straighten out the kinks. Above the roosting birds thousands of others 
circled and squawked in a note both lonely and petulant. Seeing them roost so 
high, I wondered how the men could climb to them. 

I turned my eyes from the birds to see, in the now dim evening light, a dozen 
naked boys squatting on the sand. They had come from nowhere, without sound; 
they had been materialized out of the spirit of this desolate place. With mouths 
open slightly, bodies motionless, they stared fixedly at the roosting birds. I 
fancied them mischievous idols squatting on the sand, and when I turned my 
eyes back to the wall of hernandia trees I fancied the birds were malevolent 
pagan idols perching in the trees. 

A mosquito buzzed in my ear. I slapped. 

“What’s that?” came First-Born’s voice from behind me. 

“Mosquitoes.” 

“Mosquitoes!” First-Born cried in a note of indignation. “That’s impossible. 
There are no mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet!” The last words had been said 



dogmatically, brooking no contradiction; but I replied nevertheless that one had 
buzzed in my ear and that now I could feel one biting my ankle. 

First-Born laughed sardonically. “Oh,” he muttered, “perhaps just now, at dusk, 
with a moon, on the beach,” and then, raising his voice, “but there are no 
mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet!” 

“Mosquitoes?” Constable Ears called from the group of bird hunters. “Hm! 
Mosquitoes, you said?” 

“Ropati says there are mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet!” 

Everyone had a good laugh over that, for one of their pet delusions, actuated by 
village patriotism, is that there are no mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet—though 
the other (and inferior) islets are swarming with them. If you swat a mosquito 
and hold its carcass before their eyes the villagers will dismiss the evidence with 
contempt. “Oh, one or two, perhaps, just at this time, with the moon nearly full,” 
they will admit, “but there are no mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet.” 

“It will be another hour before the moon is high enough to light the bird 
hunters,” someone said presently. 

“The moon is under the ridgepole of the sky,” First-Born said. “Where’s Araipu? 
You pray for us, Araipu.” 

When we had gathered close to the vicar and lowered our heads he told his 
Creator all about the hunting party, mentioning that we were good Christians, 
had paid our church dues, and never missed a service. He asked that no youths 
fall from the trees and kill themselves like the heathen youths had done in days 
gone by, and he asked that enough “quails be sent” to support our bodies in the 
wilderness. He prayed for a long time, and though the prayer turned out to be 
more of a sermon about Moses and the Exodus than a supplication, had he not 
raised his voice to Heaven for at least ten minutes no one of the hunters would 
have dared climb the trees. 

We rose. First-Born grasped my arm while the ape-man Poaza walked a few 
paces ahead and the others straggled up the beach to disappear instantly in the 
deep black of the hernandia grove. 


Despite the moon it was very dark indeed in the grove. We could scarcely see a 



man standing an arm’s length away; and the air, heavy with the miasma of bird 
droppings and decayed vegetation, seemed to quiver when great seas pounded 
along the barrier reef. We separated in eight or ten groups without my knowing 
we had separated, for the natives moved through the grove as silently as 
shadows. Presently I heard First-Born’s voice: 

“There goes Poaza!” 

“Where?” 

First-Born grasped my arm, pulled me close to him, and pointed upward. By 
stooping a little and pressing my cheek against his shoulder I could glance along 
his outstretched arm and see, high up against the background of checkered 
leaves and sky, something moving. Then I fixed my binocular on the object and 
guessed, if not saw, that it was a man. He must have been one hundred feet 
above us. I lost sight of him when he crawled into a mass of foliage, but later I 
saw him again, always higher and higher up. 

“No money in the world could make me climb one of these trees at night,” I said 
to First-Born. “The Puka-Pukan youths are cowboys!” 

“That’s right; they are cowboys,” First-Born agreed, cowboy being a local 
appellation for a bold and reckless fellow. “I myself am probably the best bird 
hunter on this island—but tonight I have a sore foot, so I can’t climb.” 

“How do they get up the straight, slippery trees? The trunks must be ten feet 
around, and there’s not a limb till you get fifty feet up.” 

First-Born did not reply, for just then there was a great squawking high over our 
heads: “Naw-ah! Ngaw-ah!” choked off suddenly. Then we heard the crackling 
sound of a bird falling through foliage and a loud thud as it struck the ground. 
First-Born groped forward to hunt for the bird but told me to stay where I was. 

Throughout the grove boobies were squawking and dead bodies thumping to the 
ground. Sometimes a matchlight would pierce a red hole in the umbra; 
whispered voices moved like ghostly presences about me; and once I heard 
Araipu intoning, startlingly loud, seemingly from nowhere: “‘And there went 
forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by 
the camp ...’ Numbers II: 31.” In a half hour the rain of birds had lessened. I 
found First-Born close to me again. 



“Would you dare walk here alone at night?” I asked. 


“I should die of fear.” 

“Why?” 

“Ghosts, Ropati, ghosts.” 

“Have you ever seen a ghost?” 

“No, and I never want to.” 

“If you had seen one you might not be so frightened. They are harmless.” 
“Ropati, have you ever seen a ghost?” 

“Many times,” I replied. “I saw one in this grove, some years ago, when I was 
walking round the islet on the lookout for turtles.” 

First-Born edged away from me as though frightened of a man who had seen a 
ghost; then he moved still farther away, to pick up another bird; but soon he 
hurried back, more afraid of ghosts than of a man who had seen a ghost. 

“I wish you would talk about something else,” he said crossly. “It’s dangerous to 
talk about such things out here at night in the hernandia grove. Ghosts often 
come snooping around when you are talking about them— and Poaza might hear 
you! If he gets thinking about ghosts all the strength will go out of him and he 
will fall out of the tree!” 

But presently Poaza himself appeared. We felt our way to the edge of the grove, 
then walked a little way down the beach to where the rest of the bird hunters 
were gathered. We had seven boobies; the entire catch numbered sixty-one, 
which was exceptionally good. It represented a feast for the entire village, wing 
feathers enough to decorate all the hats, wing bones enough to make popguns for 
all the children, and, most important of all, enough birds to make the Central and 
Windward villages green with envy. 

“I shall preach about it next Sunday,” Araipu said as we trod the gleaming sand 
back to the copra makers’ village; and then, his head thrown back, he shouted to 
the moon: 



“‘He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night. 

“‘The people asked, and he brought quails, and satisfied them with the bread of 
heaven. 

“‘He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like 
a river. 

“‘For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant.’ Psalm 105: 
39, 40, 41, 42.” 

At the copra makers’ village I left Araipu and entered the House of Youth. 



Chapter II 


I climbed to one of the sleeping platforms that extend across the tie beams at 
either gable end of the House of Youth and stretched out beside the young men 
of Leeward Village. 

I breathed deeply of the heavy, satisfying smell of human bodies mingled with 
the fragrance of flower-scented coconut oil, the slightly dank yet appetizing 
smell of newly opened native ovens, smoke impregnated with the odor of damp 
thatch, all of which combined to suggest a sense of security, shelter, sustenance. 
And at times, when a gust of wind swooped down from the treetops to pass 
through the House of Youth and eddy above the sleeping platform, the fragrance 
of jungle flowers, reef mist, and the sea would envelop me. 

Coconut-shell fires flashed here and there in the village, and a fire of coconut 
spathes burned between the Great House of King Toka and that of the gorilla 
Bones. Their vagrant gleams moved across the thatching in the House of Youth 
and were diffused onto the sleeping platform. 

Slung to the ridgepole above me I could see a bundle of fish poles with their 
lines of pipturus bark and their gleaming pearl-shell hooks. Water containers 
made from whole coconuts, in nets of sennit, with stoppers of wood in their 
eyes, hung like gourds from the rafters; and stuck into the thatch or tied to the 
rafters by strips of bark were coconut-meat scrapers, rolls of sennit, great 
wooden ruvettus hooks a handsbreadth from barb to bend, many faded wreaths 
of fern leaves—memory presents from the girls of Windward Village. 

Next to me lay crooked-legged little Bribery, Jr., only son of crooked-leggged 
Deacon Bribery. Beyond was the big youth Eagle-wing, the bosom friends 
Messrs. Achilles and Ajax, and the small but active Mr. Horse. The six of us 
fitted snugly on the narrow platform, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. On the 
other gable-end platform lay another group of youths, while below us, on the 
ground floor of thick, roughhewn planks, were a dozen others—Mr. Boston, Mr. 
Coconut, Jack Dempsey, Mr. Casanova. These fraternity names are never used in 
the unromantic daylight, when among their elders. 

Though it was nearly midnight the village was awake. Women gossiped as they 



cleaned and broiled the night’s catch of birds; a group of old men shouted advice 
and encouragement to King Toka and Bones, who were playing a disk-tossing 
game by the light of a spathe fire; children screamed as they splashed in the 
lagoon; from near by in the village I heard the cracked voice of old Mr. Scratch 
intoning a Christian prayer before stretching out to sleep; there was singing and 
laughter from the House of Young Women, but this last sounded to me insincere. 
I wondered if they knew and resented that the girls of Ko were to cross the reef 
tonight. 

“What a contrast in cultures!” I thought. “These people do not know whether 
they are pagan or Christian. Here in the House of Youth I am virtually in ancient 
PukaPuka; but over on the main islet, or even on this islet in the daytime, I am in 
Christianized Danger Island. The people seem to slip back to pagan times with 
the setting of the sun ... I wish it were always night.” 

“Tst!” came suddenly from little Bribery, and at the same instant, from a house 
across the road, a woman started screaming. 

There was the sound of running footsteps. 

“Wake up, Pilala-woman!” someone cried. “Why are you screaming?” 

“She has had a bad dream!” 

“The spirits of the underworld are tormenting her!” 

“No; it is her old husband! He comes from his grave every night to haunt her!” 

For some time the screaming continued, unsuppressed, in a note of panic terror; 
then Pilala-woman’s voice: “It was a devil from the underworld! He was raping 
me! Oh! his thing was as hot as a firebrand!” 

Then another voice: “That might be a good dream! Perhaps you are pregnant!” 

“No; it foretells death!” a quavering old voice declared. 

“It was a bad dream!” wailed Pilala-woman. “I know I have conceived a devil- 
baby! It will kill me when it drops! Aue-ue! I shall die. I shah make my grave- 
skirt! I shall die!” 



Mr. Horse, in the House of Youth, laughed aloud. 

“Who laughed?” screamed Pilala-woman. “May Satan eat his ears! It was one of 
those fledglings in the House of Youth! May his thing hang like a wilted leaf!” 

And then, gradually, the village was quiet again. 

“We must leave soon,” Eagle-wing said. “The tide is out; the south reef is dry.” 

“Desire will come tonight. She was made into a woman yesterday. She will lead 
the dance.” 

“Ropati will take Desire.” 

“If only I could!” 

“Oh, she loves you, for you have a chest full of smell soap and talcum powder 
and firecrackers and hair oil ... and you can pay her fine every time the resident 
agent arrests her.” 

“Why does Horatio Augustus put us in jail? Is it sinful to love our girls? Why 
does he do it?” 

“Because he is a fool!” 

“Come! Pilato will be waiting for us. Bring your cocolele, Mr. Horse: the little 
mice squeal when they hear it.” 

“Perhaps the little mice are at our Place of Love now!” 

“They will laugh at us if we keep them waiting!” 

“They will say our women kept us in the village!” 

We lowered ourselves from the sleeping platform and moved to the road. Mr. 
Horse struck some chords on his cocolele, and one of the Village Fathers, 
hearing him, shouted, “Where are you going, wild youths?” And we replied: 

“We go to our women in the Place of Love!” 


“Go; and may luck go with you!” 



Pilato’s Place of Love stands in a clearing by the outer beach. It is no more than 
an open-sided hut where the young unmarried take shelter from the rain; but it is 
said that the sandy beach stretching from the Place to the shallows had been 
cleared in pagan days by Goddess Taua for the dances of the youths and 
maidens; the densely leaved magnolia bushes lining the beach as far as the Point 
of Hernandia Trees had been planted by the goddess so that lovers should have 
privacy; and the deep pool between the beach and the reef had been scooped out 
by Taua so that hot bodies could be cooled in the foam-mottled, constantly 
renewed water. 

Tonight we from the House of Youth, standing back in the shadows, saw Pilato 
move mincingly from his hut, his wide, feminine hips swinging under their 
bushy grass skirt, a song on his lips. For a little while he stared down the beach 
and along the moonlit coral highway to Ko; then, seeing a group of figures, 
“Tangi!” he called. 

“Aye!” came the laughing voice of Desire’s elder sister. She stepped into the 
clearing, followed by pretty little auburn-haired Desire and a score of girls from 
Ko Islet. In one hand she carried a smoldering segment of coconut husk, in the 
other hand a frond basket. “I have brought you some periwinkles,” she said to 
Pilato. “Desire will cook them.” 

With that she put the smoldering husk and the basket on the sand near the hut. 
Desire laid a coconut spathe on the husk and blew it to a blaze, then piled 
coconut shells on top of it. In a few moments the shells had burned to a bed of 
coal, and on this she laid the periwinkles. When the juice sizzled in the shells she 
picked them from the coals and shook out their meat on a food mat of frond 
leaves. 

“You will lead the dance tonight,” Pilato told Desire when he had squatted by 
her and was eating the periwinkles. “And now that you are a woman you can 
choose any boy you wish.” Then he laughed spontaneously, threw back his head, 
joggled his shoulders, and sang: 

“The back of the rat goes up and down! Toko toi toi, toko toko to! Toko toi toi, 
toko toko to!” 

“Mr. Horse will be the little rat!” one of the girls cried. 

“No; it will be Mr. Achilles or his friend Mr. Ajax. How they stare at her when 



she works in the taro bed!” 


Desire shrugged her shoulders in a contemptuous way. “I shall have a cowboy 
for my husband!” she said. 

“Te witoki [The impudence]!” screamed a chorus of voices. 

Then we from the House of Youth moved into the glade. Pilato brought out his 
huge wooden gong and, squatting by it, beat out a rapid tattoo, and then, with the 
high-pitched voice of a woman, he called the first movement of the dance. 

Now moonlight glistened on the white coral sand, cast moving lights and 
shadows among the metallic-green fronds. The magnolia leaves became 
tarnished silver, gleaming dully. Combers rumbled over the barrier reef, and 
across the shallows parallel ridges of water, their crests foaming, raced hissing 
shoreward, where they broke and surged up the beach, jangling the coral gravel. 

Louder than the thunder of breakers and the jangle of coral gravel came the 
tattoo of Pilato’s gong. He squatted by his gong to beat it in a kind of frenzy. His 
body was never at rest, his eyes sparkled; there were laughter, shouts of 
encouragement, and snatches of song from his lips. In the clearing before him 
the girls of Ko danced, formed in a double line, their arms and their hips moving 
in a manner that suggested physical love. We from the House of Youth stood 
here and there close to the dancers; but now and again one of us would leap 
forward, shouting in a spontaneous burst of excitement, and dance between the 
lines of girls, arms outstretched, knees knocking together, shoulders swaying. 
There would be screams from the girls, a shriek of laughter from Pilato, and 
hoarse shouts from the youths. 

The moonlight played on the naked brown skins; it seemed to caress the 
shimmering black hair, the firm young breasts half hidden under wreaths of 
flowers; it played wantonly in the grass skirts and then moved on to project a 
nether dance, elongated and fantastic, across the sand until it was lost in the 
shadows. The moonlight was an actor in this scene of pagan loveliness, as was 
the wind with its tantalizing smell of hot bodies, of the night breath of wilting 
flowers. 

Desire led the dance, as was her right, for she had been declared mature on the 
day before, and this was her night of glory. There were wreaths of cordia and 
pandanus blossoms around her head, flowers in her hair and behind her ears. Her 



grass skirt had been made by Tangi from the whitest of bleached fiscus bark; it 
was so bushy that it accentuated the width of her hips and their movement in the 
dance. Her breasts were bare, to me they were soft, round, inviting. With her 
mind on the movements of the dance, a little scowl puckering her brow and the 
bridge of her nose, she danced as though she were a priestess officiating in her 
temple—as perhaps she was. 

Dawn was at hand when the dancing had ended. We strolled southward along the 
beach, and I so managed it that I was close to Desire and soon had my arm over 
her shoulders. 

“I am coming for you, Desire,” I said when we had reached the place where our 
friends must turn onto the reef highway. “Wait for me when the moon is full.” 

Then I felt her arm slip around my waist and her hand press me gently, and then 
she was gone. For a little while we watched our friends move in single file along 
the reef, and we could hear the plash of their bare feet, for the tide was coming 
in. They were lost when the moon sank behind a bank of horizon clouds. 

Suddenly tired to exhaustion we walked back to the copra makers’ village. 

At sundown I sent for Pio—the Mr. Horse of the House of Youth. I fed him bully 
beef and biscuits to make him strong at the paddle; and at deep dusk, after 
expressing the proper excuses to Araipu (and borrowing his canoe), we set off. It 
was night by the time we had paddled the mile to Matauea Point, on the 
westward side of Ko Islet. From there we skirted far out in the big horseshoe 
bay, so as to be safe from prying eyes, and paddled noiselessly. 

There was a full moon. Soon I laid my paddle in the canoe and, sitting in the 
bow, stared into the water. In the shallow places the white sand bottom was of 
the light blue of a clear summer sky, with here and there growths of coral, 
shadowy fish moving among the coral forests. Elsewhere the water changed to 
deeper shades, to violet and purple and blue-black. Then presently we came to 
where the sand gave way to coral mountains as weird, as gloomy, as mysterious 
as the mountains in a book of fairy tales. 

“Sh!” came suddenly from Pio. He backed water silently. “There’s a malau 
fisherman!” 

I soon made him out. Leaning low, we turned the canoe and paddled farther out 



in the bay, but only to find ourselves in a maze of reefs, scarcely awash, over 
some of which we had to drag the canoe. And the farther we paddled the closer 
the malau fisherman seemed to be. We soon guessed that he was following us so 
he could have a sauce of scandal to serve with his malau. And sure enough, 
when we were wedged in a great mass of reefs, each one of which was so thickly 
covered with spiny coral that we could not pull the canoe over it, the fisherman 
managed to come within recognizing distance. 

“Ha, ha! Ropati and Pio!” the cur whooped. 

Everyone knows how sound carries over calm water. Though the head of the bay 
was nearly a mile away, the villagers could hear every word the fisherman 
shouted. 

“Oh, it’s you, Bribery,” I snarled, recognizing the crooked-legged deacon. 

“We’re going to the main islet. Show us the way out of this mess.” 

“Aye, little Ropati; presently, Ropati dear!” the creature whined. “But how is it 
that you, who have lived on PukaPuka all these years, do not know the way to 
the main islet? And has Pio forgotten the way? And do you always use such 
nice-smelling hair oil when you are paddling to the islet?” 

“Be still, you old fool! If you breathe another word you’ll never get any more 
tobacco from me!” 

“Aye; the old man will be silent as the moon, little Ropati,” Bribery whooped. 
“Just give the old man a pinch of tobacco for his pipe, and he will be silent as the 
moon and show you the way out of these reefs.” 

I gave him some tobacco; but instead of thanking me by speaking softly, he 
shrieked: “So Ropati and Pio are not going to the main islet at all! So they are 
out hunting little mice to play with tonight. . Oh, when I was a wild youth all the 
little mice—” 

“Be still! No one cares about what happened when you were a wild youth! Show 
us the way out of here!” 

Bribery’s reply was a cackling laugh that rent the still night air. I fancied scores 
of villagers poking their heads under the eaves of their houses, cocking their 
ears, glancing and nodding meaningfully at one another. Perhaps even Desire 



had heard us and was laughing at us! But presently, when the deacon had had his 
laugh and had shouted a number of other not very witty things, he noisily led us 
out of the maze. 

We paddled to Matautu Point, which is directly across the bay from Matauea. 
There we hid our canoe under some pemphis bushes that hung over the shallow 
water, had a smoke, and, happy again, started toward the copra makers’ village 
of Ko. It was then that I began really to enjoy myself. I followed Pio, through the 
shadowy jungle, under long-leaved pandanus trees, through the gloom of 
hernandia groves. I listened as though for the first time to the distant thunder of 
combers on the barrier reef, the mournful cooing of island doves, the squawking 
of noddy terns a-roost in the coconut trees. The night noises were primitive 
music, and I was a primitive man out hunting for his woman. 

Once we slipped inland to crouch behind a clump of bird’s-nest ferns, roll 
cigarettes, and light them where the flame of the match would not be seen in the 
village. Then we moved on again, cautiously now, till presently we saw a fire 
burning before the first village house. It was Mama Tala’s place, where Desire 
was staying. 

When we were within a hundred paces of the house Pio grasped my arm, 
pointed, and whispered: “There she is! She is sitting close to the fire, with her 
back to a coconut tree. She and Tangi and her mother are eating coconut crabs ... 
. Listen! Can’t you hear the old lady cracking the claws with her teeth?” 

“I can see only a red glow in the darkness and hear only the terns squawking in 
the treetops.” 

“Wait here,” Pio whispered. “I will slip through the shadows, and creep up 
behind her, and tell her you have come for her. Mama Tala must not know that I 
am here, for it is tapu for the Leeward villagers to come to Ko.” 

I was about to tell him that Bribery would carry the news to the villagers if they 
did not know it now, but by then Pio was gone. I moved a few paces to the 
lagoon beach and sat there in the shadow of a cordia tree. Across the narrow 
stretch of water at the head of the bay, I could see a score of fires creating out of 
darkness pictures of village life; a group of half-naked figures squatting round a 
cooking fire; an old man sitting with his back to a house post, oblivious to the 
present world as he dreamed of the past; children playing in firelit glades; the red 



glow on domes of foliage shaken fitfully in the breeze. 


There was the steady rhythm of a gong from some place of love on the outer 
beach, merging and sometimes lost in the thunder of reef combers, the screams 
of children, the sustained murmur of the coconut fronds. There was the smell of 
broiling fish from a cookhouse near by in the village, the heavy odor of seaweed 
cast along the shore, and once a vagrant waft of scented coconut oil, and with it, 
in my mind’s eye but seemingly as tangible as living flesh, the face of Desire. I 
drank in these sights, sounds, smells, and I felt myself a part of this world far 
away. 

The night birds were flying seaward now. I could hear them squeak petulantly as 
they winged overhead. Terns soared down from their perches to wheel over the 
water before flying to the shallows; curlews piped their cry of panic loneliness. I 
could feel a lizard moving across my leg, and I knew the great lobsterlike 
coconut crabs were coming forth from their holes and hollow logs to climb the 
palms for their nightly plunder. 

“Ropati!” Pio whispered in my ear. “Why are you sitting here as though in a 
dream? Desire will meet you on the Point of Teauma. Tangi will be with her, for 
she is going to be my girl tonight. Give me your flashlight. I will lead them to 
the point. Come to us when you see the light.” 

Then Pio slipped away again, and a moment later I was picking my way inland 
through the groves and jungle. Coming to a trail that I recognized, I followed it 
to the outer beach and then walked along the hard sand by the edge of the 
shallows to the south point—the Point of Teauma. Close by a clump of magnolia 
bushes I found a place to wait for Pio and Desire. The coral gravel was small 
enough to lie on comfortably, and I had a good view of the stretch of beach on 
either side and of the jungle barrier behind me. 

It was a lonely place indeed—a lonely place to meet Desire! The wind had 
sprung up; now it blew over me caressingly. The magnolia bushes spread their 
gnarled and twisted branches over my head, rustled faintly and sibilantly like the 
distant buzz of night insects. A few paces away the ripples marched across the 
shallows to jingle the coral gravel with a tintinnabulation of tiny bells; there was 
not a human sound to jar on my ears. Across the shallows, in the sky above the 
eastern reef, a somber cloud had risen. It reminded me of a sitting Buddha. The 
full moon cast a dim shadow across it. It seemed to me that I was worshiping in 



an ancient temple where a candle burned before the idol of a pagan god. Then 
the beam of a flashlight played on me, and an instant later Pio and Desire were at 
my side. Back in the shadows I saw another figure and guessed it was Tangi. 

I cannot tell a great deal of that night with Desire, for it was an experience of the 
spirit more than of the flesh. Though she was clothed only in a grass skirt, when 
she lay flung out by the magnolia bushes, the moonlight full upon her, I sat by 
her and stared at her, marveling that such a lovely creature should exist, that she 
should come to me in this lonely place, and that I might have her for the asking. 

“Why did you come so stealthily?” Desire asked when she was lying close to me 
and Pio and Tangi had slipped away to some love nest of their own. “I heard you 
out in the lagoon. I knew you were coming for me, and I told my mother so.” 

“What did she say?” 

“She was willing. I have been a woman a whole week now, so my mother would 
not stop me going to the outer beach with you. Why didn’t you come openly and 
take me from my mother’s house?” 

“I do not belong to your village. It is tapu for the Leeward villagers to come 
here.” 

“Nothing is tapu for you: you are a white man.” 

“Well, anyway, little one, it was fun meeting you this way.” 

“Yes, I understand,” Desire said thoughtfully. “That is why I told Pio I would 
meet you on this point. I knew you wanted to creep through the jungle like a 
cowboy and meet me in the loneliest place in the world.” 

Then she moved closer to me and laid her head on my arm. “You are one of the 
wild youths now,” she said. “Why don’t you take a new name, like the boys in 
the House of Youth—a name like Mr. Horse or Eagle-wing?” 

“You think of one for me, Desire.” 

“I have done it already. You told me you would come for me when the moon was 
full, and now you are with me alone for the first time, with the moonlight 
shining on us, so I am going to call you Mr. Moonlight.” 



“That’s a nice name—and what is your name in the House of Young Women?” 


“I am Miss Memory.” 

“What a pretty name! Do you know what it means?” 

“No, but I saw the word in a white man’s book, and when I spoke the word it 
sounded nice—memory!” 

“I love you, Miss Memory.” 

“And I love you, Mr. Moonlight ... Am I to be your woman now—forever?” 

“That you are. When the villagers return to the main islet you must come each 
morning to the trading station. We will call you a housemaid so the resident 
agent will not arrest us; but old Mama will do the work while you stay close to 
me where I can see you and be happy.” 

Then I leaned over her to kiss her in the white man’s way, and then to rub my 
nose in her hair like the natives do; and then we lay back, arm in arm, under the 
magnolia bush, to talk of the things lovers talk about, which talk is nothing at all 
unless the lovers are there, and the feel of each other, and the moonlight, and the 
fragrance, and the sound of soft voices. So I shall leave myself under the 
magnolia bush with Memory until the dawn quickens, for it was then that I led 
her back to Mama Tala’s house, and, in broad daylight, caring not a whit who 
saw me, paddled back to Frigate Bird Islet with Pio. 



Chapter III 


I have been back on the main islet for nearly a month, and I am writing in the 
Danger Island trading station. If anyone should find these scribbled pages among 
my worldly effects, when I have passed happily into the pagan underworld, and 
should wonder why I now speak of my atoll as Danger Island instead of 
PukaPuka, let him understand that, to me, the modern name better fits the main 
islet with its three churches, its native store, its resident agent (a native of the 
Lower Islands), and its villagers clothed in ragged European clothes. The main 
islet is only four miles from Frigate Bird, yet in time I seem to leap from a 
primitive age to a mockery of civilization— from PukaPuka to Danger Island. 

Here in the station the empty shelves are about me, with their ghosts of cheap 
print, butterfly scent, pipe knives, smell soap, marbles, lollipops, firecrackers; a 
few books are on the counter where formerly flowered muslin was cut in three- 
yard lengths, where Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco was traded for coconuts, 
where beaudful maidens leaned their elbows as they smiled at the Yankee trader. 
And it is the same counter where I piped off many a watch while drawing pay as 
a trader, and where William the Heathen and I discussed many a bottle of brew. I 
might call it a storied counter, and I might tell of the storied bar of the Line 
Islands Trading Company, the wreck of which is still in the other downstairs 
room. Sometimes I fancy I can smell the stale beer. 

Desire comes to the trading station every day except Sundays to help Mama in 
the cookhouse, tidy the station, or simply be with me; but she returns in the 
evening to her mother’s house in Windward Village, directly across the bay from 
the station. On Sundays I spend much of my time on the back balcony, watching 
her move from her house to the cookhouse or to the village road and thence to 
church; and in the latter eventuality I will hurry down to the trade room and wait 
for her, for she often calls before crossing the road to the great white mausoleum 
of the missionary society. Or I will watch her sitting with her sister Tangi under 
the cordia tree, by the beach, where she knows I can see her. Also, though we 
have all day to make dates, we have worked out a system of signals to add 
variety to our language of love. Thus a white cloth hung on the balcony railing 
means: “Tonight, when Constable Benny beats the curfew gong, I shall come for 
you.” 



I find that it adds zest to the adventure if I breathe not a word of it during the day 
but wait till she has left in the evening, then hang the cloth from the railing, 
knowing she will not see it until she leaves the road in Windward Village and 
turns lagoonward toward her mother’s house; and I am on the balcony to watch 
her through my binocular—watch her appear from behind Uka’s house, raise her 
head, hesitate a moment as she stares at the signal cloth, then turn her head away 
demurely and hurry into her mother’s house, her heart beating fast—or is it my 
heart? 

When Benny beats the curfew gong I go to First-Born’s house, where the deaf- 
mute Letter is waiting for me. Because he is blind at night I lead him to my 
canoe, place him in its bow, and put a paddle in his hands. When I thump the 
side of the canoe he paddles, while I steer, slowly and silently across the bay to a 
coral head near Windward Village beach. With the bow of the canoe on the coral 
I wait until a mass of wavy auburn hair seems to float across the calm water 
toward me. A brown hand reaches up to grasp the canoe’s crossboom, Miss 
Memory boards us and whispers that the villagers are asleep and nighttime was 
made for us. 

I am becoming rankly sentimental. Perhaps my head is still drunk with the 
adventure of last night. The time was moonrise, the place the lee of a magnolia 
bush on the outer beach, the company was Miss Memory, and of further 
company there was none. 

In a frond basket I carried two thick albacore steaks, two drinking nuts, and 
some raw peeled taro. Memory carried balanced on her head a basket of coconut 
shells and a pair of food tongs made from an eighteen-inch piece of frond 
midrib. We needed nothing else—no salt, paper, lunch kit, thermos bottle, sweet 
pickles or sour—though in my pockets were matches, tobacco, a pipe, and a 
knife. 

On the way to the outer beach I took my arm from Memory’s shoulders long 
enough to pick up a couple of coconut spathes and to fray their ends so they 
would light readily. She stopped at a guettarda tree to pick a score of leaves and 
lay them on her basket of shells. 

When we had decided on our magnolia bush I lighted the spathes and piled the 
coconut shells on top of them. The shells would burn with a white sputtering 
flame, and they would leave a bed of coals that smoldered for a half hour or 



more ... But I was not concerned. After kindling the fire I crawled under the 
magnolia bush, lighted my pipe, and watched my atoll girl as she laid the fish, 
the taro, the coconuts on the coals. Puffing away at the old pipe, grunting 
occasionally in the Puka-Pukan manner just to show that I was happy, I watched 
her turn the fish and the taro with her midrib tongs; I noted how charmingly her 
hair fell about her bare shoulders, how the glowing coals lent their spirit to play 
in her tresses. And now, mingled with my tobacco smoke, came the savory odor 
of fat that had oozed from the fish and was sputtering on the coals. My mouth 
watered so freely that soon a gurgling sound came from my pipe, so I knocked 
out the remnant of tobacco, blew the moisture out of the stem, and filled her up 
again. 

My atoll girl laid out the leaves in a nice little circle close beside me so I could 
eat in the old Roman manner, accumbent; and I had scarcely finished my second 
pipe when she picked the fish and the taro from the coals with her tongs and laid 
them on the leaves. Then, protecting her hands with a mat of leaves, she opened 
the coconuts by tapping them with a lump of coral, added them to the feast, then 
crawled under the bush to cuddle beside me. 

What a feast it was! In a European dining room it would have been a sorry mess; 
but here, with the silken trade wind, the thundery barrier reef, the moonlight 
dodging between the magnolia leaves—here, with my atoll girl at my side, 
equally willing to nibble the broiled albacore or my shoulder ... sons of Adam! 
And yet I have journeyed away from PukaPuka solely to taste again the insipid, 
the indigestible, the artificial cuisine of civilization served by chaste and hard- 
faced waitresses! 

Yesterday afternoon I lay on the counter in Araipu’s store and daydreamed of the 
fleshpots of civilization, while betimes Araipu squatted on the floor, splitting 
matches lengthwise so as to double the number in each box. The tightwad! He 
does not have to do this, for he has bags and bags of money; but the rest of the 
neighbors have a good excuse for splitting their matches: that is, they have only 
enough money to afford two or three boxes a year. Araipu laid each match 
circumspectly on a block of wood; then he fixed his razorsharp pipe knife along 
the edge of it and pressed down. Sometimes, when the matchwood ran 
diagonally, the split pieces would break off close to the head, but they were kept 
nevertheless, and each one would light a lamp or kindle a fire though it burned 
the stingy storekeeper’s fingers in the bargain. 



Splitting matches is not the end of our thrift. Seldom does a man light his pipe 
with even the shortest sliver of a broken match. When a light is needed he sends 
a child to beg fire from house to house or even village to village, and his pipe 
waits until the child has returned with a burning spathe or a smoldering husk. If 
the child can find no fire, the man grudgingly takes a split match and, sheltered 
from the wind, lights a coconut husk with which he kindles a fire, finally to light 
his pipe with a live coal. 

However, I have left myself lying on Araipu’s counter, my head pillowed on a 
bolt of unbleached calico. I believe it was at the time my thoughts had turned to 
Aunt Adelina and the salt-rising bread she used to make, and how tasty it was 
with homemade butter and strawberry jam, that William the Heathen came 
tramping and blustering into the store. 

William the Heathen, the reprobate, the ex-whaler, the beer guzzler, the 
blasphemer! He is ageless. When I first met him I judged he was close to eighty; 
but today he appears neither a day older nor a day younger—unless it is when he 
is drinking bush beer, for at such times he seems to shuffle off a score of years, 
his eyes brighten, his tongue wags more profanely than usual; and often enough, 
leaping to his feet, he will move with the limberness of youth through one of the 
obscene dances of pagan times. 

William is the lone heathen of Danger Island, frequently in trouble with both 
secular and religious authorities, who know little of the man’s cultural 
background. They consider William no more than a worthless Kanaka with a 
thirst for the poisonous coconut-husk beer that he brews secretly in his little hut 
by the taro bed of Kawa. He has a keen sense of the degradation that has fallen 
on his people since the coming of the white man. He corresponds, in Polynesia, 
to some old Indian chief, the descendant of warriors, in the Americas, who 
cannot and will not adapt himself to the modern conditions of life; to whom 
existence is alone made endurable by means of the liquor that enables him from 
time to time to forget. 

I have called him a heathen. True, from his youth to his eightieth-odd year he 
had been the sole heathen on this otherwise Christian island; but a few months 
ago the galvanizing report was cried through the villages that he had joined the 
Seventh-Day Adventist Chapel! At first it was thought that the heathen intended 
to break up the chapel, to do some scandalous thing during meetings—smoke his 
greasy old pipe while the pastor was praying or rise to tell improper anecdotes 



from his life as a whaler. But William did none of these things. His deep-dyed 
strategy was discovered later. When it was learned that he had been put in charge 
of the chapel’s moneybag, and when he started going to Araipu’s store with 
pennies, threepenny bits, and sixpences (with which to buy Adventist-proscribed 
tobacco), it became quite evident why he had become a Christian. At the present 
moment it is rumored that William is about to leave the chapel; collections are 
too small to warrant his splendid hypocrisy. 

“Gimme sixpence niggerhead!” the heathen growled today, moving to the 
counter to strike it with his fist. Having been a whaler in his youth, William 
affects a sort of sailor English. To him tobacco is either niggerhead or bonded 
jackey. 

Araipu sighed and picked up a split match to eye it critically, while the heathen 
stood glowering and muttering curses at both of us. 

“You got some money, oh yes?” I asked, mimicking his way of speech. 

“Money? Sure t’ing! All the same bloody cowboy millionaires, too much money 
all the time!” Bang! and his hand came down to slap a sixpence on the counter. 

“There must have been a big collection last Sabbath in the Adventist Chapel,” I 
muttered. 

William ignored the thrust with the fine contempt of a hardened thief, so I went 
on: “Let’s take a walk behind the church. I want to find a place to build a 
henhouse. I plan to get married soon, so I want to get my establishment in order: 
have some chickens, and pigs, and ducks, and things for—for the girl I marry.” 

“I’ll come too,” Araipu said, fitting the last of the split matches into their box. “I 
want to look at my duck.” Then he sold William a stick and a half of twist, 
untied his moneybag, circumspectly put the sixpence in, tied the bag again, put it 
in his chest, locked the chest, and grinned in a manner that informed us the day’s 
business was done. 

William took charge of the expedition. He led us to the big grove of hernandia 
trees behind the church, and there he stopped to peer searchingly along the paths 
leading inland, across the cemetery to westward, and toward the village houses. 
But presently he nodded his head as though with complete satisfaction and 
muttered that it would be a number-one place to build a henhouse, all right, all 



right. 


“It’s rather too damp and shady, isn’t it?” I objected. 

“Too shady?” William queried, accenting the first word. “Plenty shade, that’s 
good. When you get married your wife no see you when you feed the hens. 
Plenty trees, plenty dark. You come dong this path, walk ‘round behind church. 
Miss Legs come ‘long that path, walk ‘round behind school. Then you both go in 
bush by taro bed of Kawa. Oh yes,” he muttered, nodding his head thoughtfully, 
“I t’ink this number-one place for build henhouse.” 

“I don’t see that a man has to sneak out here if he wants to meet Miss Legs.” 

For a moment the heathen eyed me ironically, then suddenly he threw back his 
hoary old head to roar with laughter, while Araipu, only half understanding, 
stared at us bewildered. “Oh, bloody hell!” William guffawed. “You too much 
savvy, all right, all right! You been poking up floor boards in Miss Legs’ house 
and crawling in at night, I t’ink, oh yes, Goddam! Go ta hell! I tell everybody 
‘bout it soon as I get home!” 

“What a depraved old heathen you are,” I growled, “talking that way to a man 
who is about to be married! Come on, Araipu; I’m going to build my henhouse 
in the middle of the village road. Let’s have a look at your duck.” 

We moved toward the duck pen, but we had gone only a few steps when we 
came to Constable Benny’s pig, so we stopped, of course, to observe it and pass 
a few sarcastic remarks. 

Benny was formerly my store boy, but when the station was closed he changed 
his profession from commerce to law, put on weight, became opinionated and 
much too overbearing with the neighbors. Formerly he was an ideal store boy, 
and, more important, an expert brewer, but that was before he had become a 
deacon, a councilman, and a constable. Think of all these titles crowning the 
head of a single Danger Islander! How can one blame him for having grandiose 
delusions concerning himself? 

Only a few nights ago he arrested five boys and five girls for loitering on the 
beach after curfew. There was a great to-do about it. Horatio Augustus lectured 
them on the sin of cohabitation and fined each one five pounds. The amount of 
the fine was of no consequence, for fines are never paid, and anyway, five 



pounds means about as much to a Danger Islander as an astronomical light-year 
means to me—it is beyond their grasp. 


The songsters had a withering revenge. One dark and rainy night they sneaked 
into the grove of hernandia trees where Benny keeps his pig and they cut off its 
tail! Not a soul saw them; but Benny, on a hunch, hauled them to court again, 
whereupon they were each fined another five pounds. Benny, however, is now 
the laughing-stock of the entire island. The Central villagers have composed a 
song about the curtailment, which they will sing at the New Year’s festival: 


Alas! Where is the tail of the constable’s pig Alas! Alas! Alas! 


the song goes. It makes Benny mad as a hornet to hear the villagers rehearsing it. 

We observed and discussed his pig from ah angles and aspects. After satisfying 
ourselves that the stump of its tail would not grow again and its general 
appearance was one of humiliation and anxiety, we proceeded to Araipu’s duck. 

She was in a pen, taking life easy during her period of ovulation. We observed 
her for a long time, not saying anything in particular or thinking anything in 
particular: just observing so we would not have to do anything more strenuous; 
then: 

“I see she is laying,” I remarked. 

“Yes,” Araipu confirmed; “six eggs.” 

“There’s no drake. The eggs won’t be fertile.” 

“A drake mounted her last month, before I put her in the pen.” 

“Will one time be enough? Don’t they have to go through the ordeal for each 

egg?” 

Araipu scowled, then glanced at me in an annoyed way—but I could not decide 
if he were disheartened at the thought of having to catch a drake and put him in 



the pen or was merely perplexed over the biological problem. “Ke [I don’t 
know]!” was all he replied. 


But William knew all about it. “Sure t’ing!” he bellowed. “Half a dozen times 
for each egg—all same womans! You t’ink maybe—so womans catch baby after 
one time? Hell no! You mount her two, t’ree hun’erd time and she catch baby! 
You ask Ropati: he too much savvy. He gonna get married pretty soon, and he all 
the time poke up floor boards in Miss Legs’ house, and Miss Legs no catch no 
baby yet! Hell and damn! I laugh too much now!” And thereupon the heathen 
laughed—or rather guffawed. 

After this burst of erudition we dropped the subject, none of us being very good 
on biology. We decided, in Danger Island fashion, to wait and observe, and 
learn. 

Desire has been arrested by strong and fearless Constable Benny, charged with 
loitering at night after curfew—not with “cohabitation,” as they quaintly call the 
crime in these islands, prudishly omitting any adjective such as “lascivious” that 
might explain what they mean. But in court it was more than broadly hinted that 
of course a girl would not be walking alone at night toward the trading station 
for any honest purpose. 

I listened to the trial from an adjoining room, mad as a hornet as I glared at Mrs. 
Susanna Augustus, who stood near me, spying through the wattle partition, 
visibly excited. I heard His Worship Horatio Augustus preach on the sin of 
fornication, sputter texts, wax eloquent, and probably become tumescent as he 
wallowed in a sadistic spree. And presently I heard him shout: “Are you guilty?” 
and then Desire, by now convinced that she was being charged with 
cohabitation, gasp in a thin, terrified voice, “No!” 

“All right!” Horatio shouted. “Don’t do it again! [sic!] You are sentenced to ten 
days in jail!” 

I knew the sentence was a slap on my own face. Horatio does not dare bring me 
to court, so he humiliates me indirectly by punishing my friends. On this day it 
would have done me good to have walked into the courtroom and slapped the 
sanctimonious hypocrite’s face; but I recalled in time that I was a foreigner, and, 
as an official once pointed out, was privileged to leave the island at any time that 
the administration became obnoxious. Moreover, it would have only made things 



worse for Desire. 


In practice Desire’s sentence means that she must work every day from 8 A.M. 
to noon for Mrs. Susanna Augustus—who, incidentally, humiliates her with the 
peculiar viciousness of the sexually repressed prude. The sentence is no less than 
terrible for poor little Desire. She is no longer her bright, laughing, innocent self; 
she finds it necessary to defend herself behind a sullen and unnaturally 
aggressive exterior. 

One afternoon, during her period of correction, I saw her sprawled face 
downward on the leaning bole of a coconut tree, in an immodest posture, her 
legs gripping the bole. She was dressed in the vilest of old rags; her hair had not 
been combed for days; her face was dirty. Without a doubt she was having her 
fill of self-humiliation. She stared at me sullenly when I approached. 

“Hello, Miss Memory,” I said, putting my arm around her. “Don’t glare at me as 
though I were the resident agent. You know I love you.” Then I said some other 
things, which there is no need to repeat. When I left she was smiling, we had 
made a date, and she had given me a kiss. 

Desire’s trouble has led me to think lately of the sex tapu and its influence over 
both civilized and primitive man. We make profound changes in the economic 
life of the South Sea Islanders, but their sex tapu remains unaltered. Christianity 
adds only sex hypocrisy. I say this advisedly: Christianity has made no 
substantial change in the sex tapu of the Polynesians, but it has taught the island 
people to conceive as sinful that which they formerly looked on as a natural and 
felicitous function of life. The rank and file of the missionaries—not the leaders 
—have been unable to understand that the sex hypocrisy which they insinuate 
into native life is a far greater evil than the promiscuity which they so one- 
mindedly, and futilely, try to suppress. 

We must not get the erroneous notion that people like the Danger Islanders live 
in a state of sexual saturnalia. Their sexual lives are no more active than those of 
the Londoners or the New Yorkers; it is rather that they approach the subject 
with more realism and that there are fewer inhibitions. When the youth go to the 
places of love they do not grab girls indiscriminately and drag them into the 
bushes to violate them. Many a night there may be no sexual relations; on other 
nights two or three pairs of lovers may slip away from the groups. The youth are 
at the places of love primarily to sing and dance and tell stories, to be away from 



their elders, to feel momentarily the intoxication of a youth-governed society. 
College boys have their fraternities for the same purpose. Moreover, primitive 
boys are like civilized boys in that they fall in love. Often enough a lad will 
cleave to his first girl and marry her; it is exceptional for a lad to go through all 
available women before he chooses his mate. The girls are far more promiscuous 
than the boys; they seem less inclined to fix their affections on a single man. 
Perhaps they know intuitively, from some atavistic source, that this is their only 
period of complete freedom; after marriage they must settle down to household 
duties and nursing babies. Therefore they live (as Horatio Augustus puts it) as 
active “social lives” as their men will grant them. 

If my life in the South Seas has taught me anything, it is this: Do not meddle 
with the sex tapu of primitive people; your own sex tapu may have less virtue 
than theirs. 

Let me return to Desire. In another country her sentence might have wrecked her 
life, but on Danger Island she can restore her self-respect in the arms of a lover 
—mine, in this case. The effect of the Augustuses’ sex hypocrisy is not so 
harmful as might be expected, for the people do not take a court sentence 
seriously. There are cases, like Desire’s, where a sentence wounds deeply and 
may turn the course of life for the worse; but most of the neighbors have too 
lively a sense of humor and too nice a sense of values to be humiliated or even 
distressed by our remarkable form of jurisprudence. Of course no good can come 
from such stupid meddling; whatever effect it has is bad. It is like mumps, a 
baneful disease which can be borne, which often causes amusement, but which 
may occasionally leave scars for life. 

The young people have always led free sexual lives; now they are often obliged 
to do so surreptitiously—and this, of course, adds excitement to the adventure. 
The Augustuses increase promiscuity by making it a fruit particularly delicious 
because it is forbidden. Man has always made this error in psychology, perhaps 
because his prototype, Jehovah, made it in the year 4004 B.C., as is written. 

Desire will be able to restore her integrity in the arms of her lover; and if she 
takes the advice I gave her she will do it tonight, for I have told her I would wait 
for her on our coral-head trysting place. But if Desire had no established lover 
the procedure would be different, for the girls on this island lure the men to 
chase them, even as birds and beasts and society women do. They walk the road 
at night, and when the boys chase them they run shrieking into the bush. On 



being caught they make a pretense of struggle, but in a moment they admit 
defeat, put their arms around their captor, give him a kiss, and go with him to the 
Place of Love, or, which is more likely, return to the road to play the game again. 

This game is called tango-tango; it only occasionally results in a sexual act. The 
sexually repressed puritan, observing a big game of tango-tango, would declare 
that every girl on Danger Island is violated scores of times every night; but many 
a virgin plays tango-tango with her father’s consent and is not violated until she 
wants it to happen. Probably all deeply enamored couples, who have no 
inclination toward promiscuity, play tango-tango for the fun of the thing, the 
same as we play tag or hide-and-seek. Any girl who wishes to preserve her 
chastity—and there are many—is safe an the loneliest trail at any hour of night. 

If one asks a wild youth: “How about that girl?” one will be told: “Oh, she is 
tapu,” or, “She is our meat.” 

But when the young people join the church they play tango-tango no more; it is 
forbidden. Now they change their tactics to Ulu’u, which invariably ends in a 
sexual act. In Ulu’u, you worm on your belly into the house of a deacon and 
tickle the toes of his daughter (praying betimes like a good Christian that you are 
not tickling the toes of the deacon) until she wakens, when you crawl with her 
into the cookhouse and talk shop. 

On this Aegean isle the Calypsos are much more wanton than the Odysseans— 
incomparably more wanton. On a Sunday night, after a day spent in puritan 
hypocrisy, with only slight titillation from listening to the “sex religion” of 
Parson Sea Foam, the girls and the unmarried women comb the island for men. 

How often, on a Sunday night, do we see a company of girls marching past the 
station, each one wearing a wide-brimmed pandanus hat! They march four 
abreast, in three lines, and they turn their heads neither to right nor left though 
they know we are watching them from the shadows of the balcony. Then, 

“Where are you going?” we shout. “Why the hats?” 

“You mustn’t speak to us,” one of them replies snobbishly, and we recognize the 
voice of Strange-Eyes. “We are white women strolling through the native 
village. We are observing the primitive island.” And then, from Miss Legs, with 
a half-suppressed whoop: “We are hunting lovers for the night!” 


Suddenly the group shrieks like a banshee; the group explodes like a shrapnel! 



Here come the cowboys of Danger Island! 


A white dress describes a parabola over the churchyard wall; a yellow dress 
hurtles down the road; a green dress shoots behind First-Born’s house; a red 
dress rockets up in the air to disappear in the neighborhood of Betelgeuse! 

Here come the barbarians! 

Shouts, screams, billy-goat noises, silence! 

In three seconds the village road is deserted. There is not a soul in sight. We 
fancy this fantastic rape of the Sabines was something we had read about long 
ago in a naughty fairy tale. Then we hear Mr. Horse strumming his cocolele, the 
giggling of a dancing girl; we hear a man whooping someplace out in the lagoon 
—whooping simply because he feels like whooping, not necessarily because he 
has caught a fish or a meteor has struck his head. 

Laughter, the tramp of feet! Here comes the parade again, hats and all! They 
have not been raped after all: they are only playing tango-tango! When they are 
tired of the game they will go after men in earnest... . 

For in the quiet hours of night, while lying on our sleeping mat, only vaguely 
conscious of the snores of the Watch and Ward out woman-chasing in their 
dreams—while longing once again to drink tea and read Browning with 
Penelope—while pondering chastity, purity in thought and deed, suppression of 
the bestial cravings of the lower man—how often do we hear the crunch of coral 
gravel under bare feet, a soft incontinent laugh, husky girl voices whispering! 

The stairs creak; the folds of the mosquito net ripple; the odor of scented coconut 
oil insinuates itself into our thoughts as welcomely as the fingers, the lips, the 
breasts of an atoll Calypso hungry for love. 



Chapter IV 


Now the schooner is in, and once again I am a South Sea trader; the days of 
epicurean beachcombing are at an end—and a good thing, too, with marriage 
imminent. For the past few days I have been busy brightening up the trade room 
with smell soap, Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco, Derby Honey Dew Cut Plug, 
lollipops, print, muslin, dungaree, unbleached calico, some hanks of fishline, 
bright red firecrackers and shiny mouth organs, bush knives and pipe knives, 
striped singlets and squeaking shoes—the same shoddy junk that I sold back in 
the 1920’s. 

There is displayed on the shelves at the present moment an assortment of fine 
matting, stick-to-the-chests, and stick-to-the-legs. You no savvy? How dense! 
Fine matting is cloth, and the stick-things are undershirts and pants. Also there is 
a whole gross of cero-kingfish, sometimes known as pipe knives because of the 
tobacco pipes the makers stamp on each blade as a trade mark, but which we call 
cero-kingfish because the tooth of that fish was our knife in the old days. Also 
there is a case of doctor soap, which is known as carbolic soap in other 
countries. Our name demonstrates that modern advertising has reached even the 
loneliest isles of the South Seas. 

It is easy enough to imagine that all the remnants from the old station had been 
stored for the past eight years, now to be once again offered for sale. In my 
books the trade goods are worth 1115/6/4 pounds! I caught my breath when I 
noted this sum jotted boldly against the store, and then turned my eyes to glance 
at the moldy, faded, and perished goods on my shelves! The smell has long since 
vanished from the smell soap, which is discouraging, for it is the only quality my 
customers will look for—or, rather, smell for. But conversely there is scarcely 
anything left but the squeak in the squeaking shoes, which is encouraging, for 
my customers will want nothing else. Also, I find the company has sent me a 
gross of ladies’ bloomers and a gross of jew’s-harps. Now how does the damned 
company expect me to sell ladies’ bloomers and jew’s-harps? However, there 
they are: two-and-sixpence each, and take your choice. 

Thank God that’s done! For six solid days I have been sweating over the counter, 
but now the bulk of the 250 pounds that the company paid for our copra is in my 
camphorwood chest. The few shillings that are left with the villagers will dribble 



into Araipu’s store during the next six months, principally in tobacco, match, and 
fishhook sales. That’s the way it is here; just like old times. When the people get 
a few shillings they have a spending spree. They can no more keep their money 
than can a child; and, most remarkable of all, it makes little difference whether 
the trade goods are new or old, of some conceivable use or worthless: the fun of 
spending is the principal thing. Thus my ladies’ bloomers and my jew’s-harps 
were snapped up in half an hour, as I shall explain later. 

I entered the trading post by the back doorway. By being quick and ruthless I 
managed to slam the door behind me before any of the jostling crowd had forced 
their way in. Only a few fingers and toes got jammed. Then I opened the front 
door and vaulted behind the counter, when instantly the place was packed with a 
solid mob of yelling savages! I do not exaggerate. All that day and the next day 
and the next day the place was a solid mass of sweating, yelling, writhing human 
flesh. Over their closely fitted heads, through the upper part of the doorway, as 
far as the schoolhouse I could see an undulating field of unkempt hair; in the 
window on my left was a mass of faces, solidly fitted cheek to cheek and chin to 
crown, with scores of arms stuck through the interstices between the chins and 
necks, with scores of hands gripping shillings and florins, scores of voices 
yelling: “Ropati! Ropati! Hi, Ropati! Tobacco! Hair oil! Doctor soap!” 

I have said that the company sent me a gross of ladies’ bloomers and a gross of 
jew’s-harps. Well, Saturday afternoon I found Miss Tern loitering about the 
station, so I called her in, showed her a pair of bloomers, and asked her to be a 
customer on Monday morning, This she agreed to do when I had given her the 
two-and-sixpence needed to buy the bloomers. Incidentally, Miss Tern is 
goodlooking and is a singularly successful man-hunter. For this reason the 
women are jealous of her, and for the same reason I picked her as the ideal 
customer to start the bloomer sale. 

Monday morning I saw her working her way into the mob. It required strength of 
mind and body. She had virtually to climb over deacons and crawl between the 
legs of councilmen—but she got to the counter at about noon. For a moment she 
let her great Semitic eyes move from the painkiller to the Dolly dyes; then, 
fixing them on the pair of bloomers hanging immodestly from a tie beam, she 
raised her lovely arms, pointed upward, and, as per instruction, started yelling 
with a sort of frenzied jubilation: “Bloomers! Bloomers!” And when I pretended 
not to hear her she went on: “Quick, Ropati, gimme the bloomers before some 
silly Leeward Village girl buys them!” 



“That’s all right, Miss Tern,” I said casually. “I have three or four pairs under the 
counter.” 

“They’ll be sold out!” Miss Tern screamed, reaching up as though she would 
pull the pair from the tie beam. “Oh, please, quick, Ropati, the bloomers!” 

When I had handed them to her and unblushingly taken the two shillings and 
sixpence she shrieked with delight, waved them over her head, and, despite the 
press, did a wild hula-hula, bumping her hips against Mrs. First-Born on her left 
and Mrs. Scratch on her right. If there had been a helluva hullabaloo a moment 
before there was a helluva helluva hullabaloo now. Men, women, and children 
started buying bloomers as fast as I could hand them out. Bloomers were passed 
out the window; bloomers were passed out the back doorway; bloomers were 
passed over the heads of the customers to people in the road. Old grandpapas 
bought them; children bought them; even Desire bought a pair. Within three 
minutes the whole stock had been sold out; then they started on the jew’s-harps, 
the sales stimulation having been arranged for, through the person of my friend 
Mr. Horse, in the same manner as the bloomer sale. 

Thus the crack trader handles such little matters as selling unsalable goods. Had 
there been a gross of medieval helmets they would have been snapped up just as 
quickly. The thought: “It’s a bargain,” or, “If I don’t buy now they’ll be sold 
out,” blocks the ability to estimate the article’s utility. 

Thank God it is over with! It was in some ways a pleasant break in atoll life, but 
I’ve had enough of it for six months. From now on Araipu will handle the 
tobacco and match sales and weigh my copra, while I pursue the affair of my 
heart. I am not cheating the company in doing this. I am doing all that is 
expected of me. So long as I have weighed in the copra and taken in all the 
money there is on the island my employer will be satisfied. If there is any village 
business, such as costumes for the Christmas celebrations, then I will open the 
station for a few hours; but otherwise I will open it only to sell wholesale to 
Araipu or get out a few things for Horatio and myself. Hory, I fancy, will be a 
big customer in hair oil, perfume, back combs, talcum powder, and such 
incidentals to one’s “social life.” Yes, despite his sadistic sprees in the 
courtroom, His Worship is one of our most successful woman-chasers. 

Greasy, crafty, dishonest, conceited Eliu, the supercargo of Windward Village, 
came through the back doorway on tiptoe, his eyes furtively darting this way and 



that, under the counter and behind packing cases, as though he were hunting for 
spies or eggs or murderers or pins. It was a long time before he could trust 
himself to speak, and then his communication came in fragmentary hints: 

“There is talk, Ropati—windtalk,” he whispered, somehow giving me the 
impression, as usual, that his mouth was full of mutton fat. “Windtalk, Ropati. 
Windtalk from Ko; windtalk from Frigate Bird ... It is said that things are not as 
they should be in the trading station—the windtalk says so, Ropati-the windtalk 
from Ko and Frigate Bird ... Prices, Ropati, prices ... The windtalk says that you 
raise the prices!” 

“Well, what about it?” 

“Prices, Ropati! ... The windtalk says that you buy your goods cheap—and raise 
the prices! ... Of course I know you wouldn’t do such a dishonest thing; but then 
there is windtalk, Ropati, windtalk ... You wouldn’t buy tobacco for eight 
shillings a pound and sell it for sixteen! You wouldn’t do such a dishonest thing, 
would you, Ropati?” 

“Sure I would—and I reckon I know where the windtalk comes from: Horatio 
Augustus, eh?” 

Eliu became more furtive than ever. His words were scarcely audible when he 
whispered: “You know, Ropati, that I am going to open a store ... Can I do it? ... 
Can I raise the prices like you do—like the windtalk says you do?” 

“Of course you can; it’s easy. You buy a hundred pounds worth of goods and sell 
them for two hundred pounds. That’s all there is to it.” 

Eliu pressed his lips together and squinted his eyes. His breath came quick and 
his words more pinguid than ever. “I’ll do it!” he exclaimed in a whisper. “How 
wise the white men are! ... Buy, one hundred pounds ... Sell, two hundred 
pounds! ... Whee-ee! ... So that’s how the white men make their millions! ... 

I’ll open a store tomorrow! ... Today! ... You give me one hundred pounds of 
goods on credit, and I’ll sell them for two hundred pounds. Then I’ll pay you a 
hundred pounds and keep the other hundred pounds! ” 

“I won’t give you any credit.” 


Eliu scowled blackly; the mutton fat turned acrid in his mouth. He tiptoed to the 



doorway to scan the yard and beach; then, returning to the counter, “You’d better 
give me the goods!” he hissed. “You’d better, Ropati ... because ... if you don’t 
... I’ll tell everybody you’re a crooked trader ... You raise the prices!” 

Horatio Augustus’ personal goods from the schooner, amounting to nearly a ton, 
were landed with my goods and stored in the station. We had no time or 
inclination to sort them out while the schooner was here or during the business 
msh; but this afternoon Hory came to the station, to interrupt Desire and me in a 
game of marbles, and demanded his goods. We rolled up our sleeves and went to 
work; and when Hory’s gear was stacked in front of the counter he told me, in an 
offhand manner, to have it delivered at once to the government residency; so I 
stepped on the front porch and called: 

“A stick of Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco for each strong young man that 
helps carry His Worship’s gear to the government shack!” 

There was a stampede. Old gentlemen and young, they came leaping to the 
station, yelling: “Ropati! Me! Tobacco! Me!” 

Deacon Bribery shouldered a forty-pound tin of biscuits, and the sea-monkey 
Poaza a fifty-pound bag of flour, and Mr. Horse a case of tomatoes, and First- 
Born a bag of rice. Twentyfive porters shouldered Horatio’s gear, as I knew, for I 
had bought a pound of twist—twenty-six sticks—and I had one stick left when 
the twentyfifth man staggered into the road—and there was one seventy-pound 
bag of sugar left to go. I glanced up and down the road. Not a soul was in sight 
except the porters and hefty old Mrs. Scratch, squint-eyed and grinning as usual. 
She wobbled from the road to the porch, through the doorway, snatching en 
route the last stick of tobacco from my hand; then she shouldered the seventy- 
pound bag of sugar as effortlessly as would a stevedore and, wobbling more 
alarmingly than before, followed a few steps in the wake of the cheerful porters. 

Horatio followed in the wake of Mrs. Scratch. His cork helmet being at precisely 
the correct angle, and his twenty-six porters being visible at once as they filed 
through Central Village, Hory’s ego was, I fancy, exalted above the highest 
coconut trees. He smirked a little, believing himself smiling charmingly, when 
he saw the lovely Kura standing by Constable Benny’s house, grinning 
equivocally as she watched her important lover hoofing it along like a colonial 
Englishman among the coolies. 



Desire and I, standing in the doorway, also grinned. 


Sight gives you only a coldly detached vision of the familiar spirit of place. 
When you hear him snore and feel his hairy chest you are casually acquainted, 
but when you smell and taste the little devil you know him to the marrow of his 
bones. That is one reason why I must tell you something about what we eat and 
drink; another reason is that, the Christmas holidays being but a few days past, 
the time is fitting for a dissertation on food. 

On every island one finds a different way of making the native oven. This is our 
method: we dig a shallow pit, nine inches deep and four feet square, and wall it 
with upright blocks of coral or pandanus logs. If we are lucky we have fifty 
pounds or so of volcanic stones for our oven; if not, there is a hard coral that 
serves the purpose but soon crumbles under the heat. A fire is kindled in the pit 
and the stones are laid on it. When the fire has died down the hot stones are 
leveled by prodding them with the butt end of a frond, and the food, wrapped in 
leaves or in coconut-shell containers, is laid on the stones. Then the food is 
covered with sections of green coconut husk and pieces of old matting. Enough 
steam is formed in the green husks to keep the food moist. That’s all there is to 
it, unless I add that it is a good idea to weigh down the outer edges of the 
matting so the neighbors’ pigs and cats do not nab your dinner. 

The coconut-shell container that I have mentioned is a large drinking nut from 
which the meat has been scraped out and a section from which about two inches 
in diameter has been cut off the eye end. Chopped taro with coconut cream is 
cooked in this container; also clams, fish fillets, and turtle, the last being one of 
the choicest foods on earth—a little fat, a little lean, a few fetal eggs, some 
chopped onion, and salt to taste. Bake at least two hours, with the top of the 
container covered with green leaves, and you have a meal for a king, his queen, 
and all the little royalties in the bargain. 

Our fish we bake wrapped in green leaves, grill on coconut-shell coals, or boil 
with coconut cream. We seldom eat raw fish, but we eat raw lobster whenever 
we can get the wherewithal. When a man begs or steals a few limes from Frigate 
Bird Islet he hides them in the cookhouse thatch, then goes surreptitiously to the 
reef and dives through the breakers to swim down to his private lobster hole. 
Now, the position of a lobster hole, where whole colonies live and breed, is a 
closely guarded secret passed down from father to son; so the fisherman scans 
the reef and lagoon before he dives, and if anyone is in sight he abandons the 



expedition for the time being. But if the coast is clear he dives to his hole, 
reaches in, and pulls out a pair of lobsters. It sounds easy, but try it. I shall carry 
for life the scars of coral cuts that I have gotten trying to pull lobsters from their 
holes. I have filled my hands with sea-urchin spines; I have been bitten by eels, 
pinched by crabs, clutched by octopods, but never have I pulled a lobster from 
his hole. 

Home again, the fisherman flings the forward end of each creature to the women 
and brats; then he removes the shell from the tail end, chops the white meat into 
small cubes, and squeezes lime juice on it. In a few hours he drains off most of 
the lime juice, then adds a cupful of sour coconut sauce and, if he has it, some 
chopped onion. Finally he chases everybody away, lets out his belt, smacks his 
lips, and feeds like the king of a South Sea isle, washing down the luscious meat 
with mangaro beer. 

I slip the beer recipe to you entre nous because Honorable Horatio frowns on 
brewing, while Lady Susanna classifies as drunkards all men who so much as sip 
wine with their meals. Anyway, with a weather eye peeled for the police, bake 
ten green mangaro nuts (the variety with sweet edible husks), split them 
lengthways, pour their water in your beer tub, beat the husks with a heavy stick 
and squeeze the water from them into your tub; then, when the liquid is cool, add 
enough coconut water to make five gallons. If you wish to speed up the brewing, 
add the water from a quarter pound of boiled hops, and if you wish a strong 
brew, add three or four pounds of brown sugar. In four days it is ready. Very 
intoxicating and perhaps slightly narcotic. Only optimists try to cross the 
causeway singing “A Wee Doch-an-Dorris” after the third glass. 

When I tell you that we atoll people live principally on coconuts and fish you 
probably fancy us with a mature coconut in one hand and a live fish in the other, 
biting into them alternately. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Mature coconuts, such as one buys in a civilized country, are eaten only 
occasionally. They are used for making coconut cream, as follows: Split a ripe 
coconut in two by tapping it gently with a bushknife midway between the eye 
end and the base, grate the meat, place the resultant flakes in a mat of hibiscus 
bark, coconut fiber, or a piece of strong cloth, and squeeze. Result: your cream. 

It sours in a few hours when, with the addition of two thirds of its quantity of sea 
water and a few chili peppers, some garlic, or onion, it becomes sour coconut 
sauce. When dining, one pours a bowlful of the sauce, then crushes the food in it 



and eats with one’s fingers, head bent close to the bowl, fingers raised quickly to 
the mouth so the sauce will not drip back, and taken with a hearty, noisy intake 
of breath so as to intensify the flavor by oxidization .... My chemistry may be 
faulty— I’ll not swear by it—but I know that coconut sauce taken noiselessly, 
urbanely, with a spoon is insipid stuff. 

That is virtually our only use for the mature coconut; the green one is the one 
eaten. It is cracked in two; about half the water is poured in a bowl, and the meat 
is scraped out and added to the water. The scraper is made of pearl shell or iron, 
two inches by ten, with one end spoon-shaped and the other end serrated. To the 
meat and water baked uto is often added; uto is the pulpy, absorbing organ that 
forms in a sprouting coconut. It looks like a puffball but is more oily and 
palpable. To obtain the best utos the sprouting coconuts are husked and the 
sprouts and roots are cut off at about an inch from the eyes. The coconuts are 
then laid in the sun for a few hours so the ends of severed sprouts will sere; then 
they are buried. In two or three months the utos absorb most of the coconut meat 
and, the sprouts having been cut off they retain the absorbed matter, become 
rich, crisp, and very good eating, raw or baked. During the Christmas holidays, 
with no flour or biscuits on the island, my household nibbled raw uto with their 
coffee. 

Our diet, consisting of coconuts and fish with an occasional dish of taro, may 
sound monotonous, but it is not so in practice—any more than the Englishman’s 
diet of roast beef and potatoes is monotonous. Now and then there is a scrawny 
atoll chicken, sea birds, a bunch of bananas once in a blue moon, and perhaps a 
mummy apple on the Fourth of July and St. Patrick’s Day. None of these is a 
regular article of diet. The Danger Islanders do not drink tea or coffee, eat bread, 
ship’s biscuits, or any other European food except bully-beef and rice, which last 
they may indulge in once or twice a year. Yet their diet contains all the 
ingredients necessary to build a strong people and keep them healthy. I have 
eaten it for so many years that I can assimilate little else. The vegetables and 
fruits that, I am told, are “absolutely indispensable” make me ill; and when on 
Danger Island I feel a trifle off color I eat a bowl of raw tridacna clams soaked in 
sour coconut sauce, or I chew the sweet husk of a green mangaro nut, and in a 
few hours I am in the pink of health. Even taro disagrees with me, and I tire of 
fish ... but a coconut! Ah, a coconut contains everything necessary to support a 
man from the cradle to the grave. 


From where I sit in my thatched house on Matauea Point, on the islet of Ko, I 



have a fine view of the horseshoe bay and the four miles of reef stretching to the 
main islet. Across the bay, to eastward, is Matautu Point, where Pio and I 
beached our canoe the night we went woman-hunting; and at the head of the bay 
is the copra makers’ village, where we found Desire and her mother eating 
coconut crabs by the light of a tiny fire; and behind me, two miles to westward, 
but visible if I lean over and look under the low eaves, is Frigate Bird Islet. 

Desire is in the cookhouse with her mother, for Honorable Horatio Augustus has 
condescended to allow her to live with me as a servant; and Desire’s sisters, 
Tangi, Vaevae, Pati, and Tili, are diving from the little wharf I have built into the 
lagoon. Three native boys are with them, but they seem unaware that they are 
swimming and playing with four naked maidens. When I was their age such a 
sight would have shocked me beyond measure. Even now I cannot look at them, 
without an impulse to snort and paw the earth; the native boys look at them with 
clean unconsciousness of sex. Howbeit, if I am to tell of the Christmas holidays I 
must turn my eyes from the lovely and (to me) exciting scene on the wharf. 

At Danger Island Christmas is the time for exchange of gifts, not the time for 
altruism. If we accept this fact gracefully as a custom in the land of our adoption 
we lose none of our respect for the people and we go through the Christmas 
ordeal with little pain. 

Several days before Christmas the people started coming with their presents. Old 
Mr. Scratch brought me a conch shell because he wanted a stick of tobacco-bless 
him! he told me so—may his lumbago be easier this coming year. Moonfaced 
Deacon Tane and his moonfaced wife came with their arms full of mats and hats, 
shell wreaths, and a nicely carved cordia-wood box to keep knickknacks in. 

They sat in the house for an hour or more, scarcely saying a word but eying with 
disfavor the other neighbors who brought gifts: Mr. Horse with a roll of sennit, 
Mama Tala with a pandanus mat, Tangi with a plaited basket, Araipu with a 
mvettus hook, Desire with a beautiful white hat she had made herself. The 
presents piled up, seventy-two of them; and on Christmas Eve I made the rounds 
of the three villages, figged out in white drill, with suitable speeches on the end 
of my tongue, and with my pockets and arms full of cartons of matches, sticks of 
twist tobacco, bars of soap, packages of firecrackers, and a few lengths of dress 
goods for particular friends. 


I turned in at midnight, but rose bright and early to join the grand parade. 



This was the woman’s year, when the men were supposed to stay at home and 
cook the food; but I joined the parade nevertheless, being an important person 
who is not obliged to abide by all the customs. 

With sharkskin drums a-booming and wooden gongs a-rat-a-tatting, the women 
of Central Village crossed the causeway to Leeward Village, and there they 
danced for an hour or more, while now and again the youths of Leeward Village 
leaped forward to knock their knees together, swing their arms, and in other 
ways give vent to their libidos. The older men laid out a mighty feast which was 
done justice to in a mighty way, slim maidens gormandizing as much pork as 
could a stevedore. But all the pork and fish and taro were joggled down when the 
women recrossed the causeway, passed silently through their own village, and 
entered noisily Windward Village; for there they danced for another hour or two, 
and ate more great hunks of pork, which same would be joggled down during the 
final dance in Central Village. Meanwhile the Windward and Leeward village 
women were having an equally grand time in the other villages. At dusk they 
joined forces before Constable Benny’s house; drums boomed and gongs rattled, 
hips swayed, knees, knocked together, eyes flashed, everybody yelled for all he 
was worth, the last of the fat pork was joggled down, and, in a word, a 
marvelous time was had by all. 

The rest of the week, save for Sunday, was devoted to the noble game of cricket, 
fifty players to a side, and if the ball gets lodged in a coconut tree it counts six 
mns. I know little of cricket, and, like any Yankee, care less, but I will say that 
these people take it in deadly earnest. It is almost warfare with them. I should 
not wonder but that they shuffle off a lot of aggressiveness during the long- 
drawn-out games, and get rid of the last vestiges of it when they “insult the 
losers.” I cannot say exactly how the losers get rid of their aggressiveness. 

Maybe they go home and slap their wives, or they bury the hatchet until May 
Day, when another intervillage game will give them their chance. 

As far as I am concerned, this mania for doing things, for excitement, for action 
is not an essential ingredient in the abundant life. A good digestion, a healthy 
liver, and a gentle wife make the most uneventful day abundant. But how strange 
it is that we humans suffer from a surfeit of happiness more than from a surfeit 
of pain! After a long period of health and happiness I am often driven to break 
the strain through a carousal. I have just recovered from one. I am not repentant, 
for repentance plays a small part in my life; but I am perplexed: I want to know 
why I drank a case of whiskey in ten days—alone and singlehanded, as the 



tautologists say. 


I am normal again now and feel much better for the spree. Without a doubt it has 
been a psychological cathartic. Probably I shall not need another cleaning out till 
the trading schooner returns and—so I hear—the Augustus family leaves. 

You will want to know where I got the case of liquor. Patience: it is a long story, 
including the most spectacular event to occur since the landing of the first 
missionaries. 

First I must tell you that Desire and I are living in Mama Tala’s house at the head 
of the horseshoe bay, for the Augustuses are at my old place on Matauea Point. 
Desire’s lovely sisters live with us, while other relatives, Parson Sea Foam 
among them, come and go in the seemingly aimless native way. 

Mama Tala is a large, placid woman, pleasant company, and tolerant of the easy 
morals of her daughters. Maloku, a half sister to Desire, is getting on in years, 
has a good husband living with her next door and numerous children. Tangi is an 
exquisitely lovely girl, starting her love life and therefore more demure than the 
other sisters. Though of frail health, she looks a good deal like Desire but lacks 
the latter’s delicate features. Vaevae-of-the-budding-breasts is too epicene to be 
judged by the standards of a South Sea trader, as is Tili a little girl of six with the 
build of an Aphrodite of Capua. But glance at Pati, sitting by my writing table 
with two of her sisters! Did you ever see anything as lovely as this child? Pati 
may be even more beautiful than Desire, and that is compliment enough. Like 
Desire, she has a soft, husky voice and a natural antipathy to raising it above a 
murmur. 

Parson Sea Foam is one of Desire’s relatives. It seems that I am temporarily in 
his bad graces. Early in the spree, Desire tells me, I was silly enough to question 
the existence of an anthropomorphic god, and the following Sunday Sea Foam 
indignantly replied with a rousing sermon inspired by Psalm 14: The fool hath 
said in his heart, There is no God. 

First Sea Foam spoke of the kind of people that renounce God; men that delve 
into the past of dark-minded heathens, exposing shameful things best forgotten; 
men that drink strong liquor, fall off causeways, and meet loose women in the 
magnolia bushes. Then, rising to his subject, his podgy arms working as though 
he were grinding fodder at a hand mill, Sea Foam demonstrated once and for all 



the existence of God. 


“Who makes the rain fall?” he wanted to know. “Who makes the wind blow, the 
lightning flash, the thunder roar? Who makes the taro grow; I ask you, who 
makes it grow? Who makes the coconut tree come into fructification? Why are 
men and women born instead of men alone?” At this point Sea Foam gave us a 
dry little laugh reminiscent of a cheap tragedian being cynical—a sort of “Ha, 
ha!” that expressed: “So, my brethren, our little atheist is squelched for all time!” 

However, squelched or not, Sea Foam ended with a grand coup de grace by 
stating that many atheists, when death knocks at the door, turn at the last to God 
and embrace the church. Sea Foam then did some praying and stumped down 
from the pulpit, convinced that, even though I might not take the sacrament 
immediately, he had silenced me forever. 

Oh well, the startling occurrence that I intended to narrate will have to wait till 
tomorrow. My brain is distraught. On Matauea Point, Desire’s sisters go 
swimming in puris naturalibus, while here, in Tala’s house, at this moment 
Tangi, Vaevae, and Pati are sitting by my writing table, plaiting a pandanus-leaf 
mat. They are speaking, with Danger Island realism, about love! And because of 
the way they sit, cross-legged, facing me, their dresses drawn up above their 
knees—and because they have low-necked dresses on, and plaiting requires that 
they lean over slightly—I shall close my journal until they are visiting their aunt 
at the other end of the village. 



Chapter V 


The Augustuses had notified us that on the fifteenth of February there would be 
a birthday feast at Matauea to celebrate Susanna’s unhappy appearance on the 
mundane scene. This meant nauseous heaps of half-cooked pork, scraggly fowls, 
tari, and coconuts, with perhaps one of those poisonous things that Susanna calls 
“cakes.” But luckily, at 9 P.M. the night before, a vessel’s lights were sighted to 
southward. 

Desire and I saw the lights while we were walking on the outer beach, and, 
because we were close to Matauea, we hurried there to tell the Augustuses the 
news—then we leaped back into the shadows, appalled by the scene that 
followed. Have you ever seen a stampeding herd of cattle “milled”—that is, 
driven so they move like a whirlpool? That is what our casually stated, “There’s 
a big steamer in the offing,” did to the Augustuses. They started milling, noisily, 
like a panic-stricken herd of cattle. They lost contact with the familiar realities of 
the Danger Island world. 

“Don’t forget to ask them for some banana extract!” Mrs. Augustus shrieked 
while her long-legged, self-important husband rushed to the cookhouse, forgot 
what he had gone there for, thought of something in the sleeping house, rushed 
there, then recalled what he wanted in the cookhouse but forgot what he had 
returned to the sleeping house for. 

“And bring some butter ashore by the first boat!” Susanna screamed at her 
distracted husband. “I got to make them some scones for tea tomorrow, and I got 
to have butter, because white people would despise us if we didn’t have butter, 
and I know they will despise us, because white people always have butter on 
their tea, and you’ll forget all about the banana extract... Oh, Horatio, you’re 
such a trial, and here I am now, and can’t find your store teeth!” And so on, 
while Horatio flew panting to the canoe, started stepping the mast, then joined 
Susanna in hunting for his false teeth, forgot them, and hurried to the end of the 
point to ascertain that the vessel was still there. 

Desire and I, back in the shadows, snickered sardonically. 

Somehow—God knows how!—they left Matauea for the main islet at about 11 



P.M.; but when they were halfway across the lagoon Horatio found he had 
forgotten his teeth, so back they came to Matauea, remembered what they had 
come for, and at 1 A.M. started a second time for the main islet. 

Next morning Desire and four of her sisters—Tangi, Vaevae, Pati, and Tili — 
sailed the Honorable Ropati to the main islet. Araipu was waiting for us on the 
beach. He told us the strange vessel was H.M.S. Percival, and scarcely had he 
mispronounced the name when the stirring music of a military band came 
crashing on our ears! 

Sons of Adam! We caught our breath! We turned our eyes! Desire squealed! Tili 
started crying! Every pig and fowl on the island dashed for the bush! Down the 
road of Central Village marched a military band! 

I was simply flabbergasted—let it go at that! 

With a drum major leading, the band marched four abreast. The clarion notes of 
the cornets pierced the foliage of coconut trees; the shrill piping of the piccolo 
roused even old Mr. Scratch from his sleeping mat. The umph pom-pom of the 
tuba caused scores of miscarriages among the village hens quaking in the 
magnolia bushes. The boom of the big bass drum silenced completely the lonely 
rumble of combers on the barrier reef! A military band marching down the road 
of Central Village! Never had such a spectacle been dreamed of. The people 
were dumfounded. Men, women, and children stared with stupefied eyes, their 
mouths open. 

I came to my senses with Desire standing behind me, supporting me. She said 
later that she had been afraid I would fall over backward like the man in the 
comic paper. When the band had passed, the music had stopped, and only the 
snare drum rattled its tap, tap tap tap, tap-tap tap, Desire had again to support 
me. Following the band came a crowd of officers and men from His Majesty’s 
ship, led by Honorable Horatio himself, and beside Honorable Horatio a 
perfectly spherical man, red-faced, perspiring like a tropic squall, continually 
mopping his face with a big handkerchief from which he would now and again 
wring the sweat. It was Honorable Tibbitts, I learned later, but even then I knew 
he was a politician. 

A few steps behind Honorable Tibbitts scuttled Deacon Bribery, stubbing his 
toes and wobbling from side to side, his eyes riveted on the politician’s cigar. 



Deacon knew that soon the precious perfecto would be tossed away, and Deacon 
was determined to pounce on it before that old fellow Scratch got it. 

When the lot of them had passed, Araipu looked at me with an expression of 
imbecile bewilderment, but he did not trust himself with words. Then we were 
brought to our senses by Desire, “Come, Ropati,” she said in a thin, shaky little 
voice, “we’ll go to the government shed and see what it’s all about.” 

So we walked across the islet to the government residence and arrived there in 
time to see Honorable Tibbitts shaking hands with everybody, slapping backs 
right and left, and to hear him saying nice things about the babies, the coconuts, 
and the island in general. It was like old times: I could fancy myself at a county 
election in Fresno. 

Presently the Danger Islanders gave the foreigners the usual presents of mats, 
hats, fans, and pearl-shell hooks, and Tibbitts presented the school children with 
three tins of hard candy. Then Tibbitts made a long speech which Horatio, 
nervous, stiff, stern-eyed, his ego exalted to the sky, translated. Susanna buzzed 
about; Araipu pressed his eyeballs back in their sockets; Ropati calmly smoked a 
cigarette. 

The neighbors seemed scarcely aware of the startling events taking place under 
their eyes. They stared this way and that, mouths open, brows perplexed. Now 
and again a Village Father would note some minute personal detail and 
straightway make a pointed remark, as: “He’s got a wart on his nose!” Or 
Deacon Bribery—as he cut a slice from the dry end of the perfecto and jammed 
it in his pipe—would mention casually: “His pants aren’t buttoned!” Or the 
roughneck village girls would talk about sexy things, and giggle, and plan how 
they could make dates with husky sailor boys. But that was as far as their 
cognizance led them. Luckily only I among the whites could appreciate the 
exquisite humor of the neighbors. 

In Honorable Tibbitts’ speech he told us the government was establishing 
wireless stations on all the outposts of progress. “Aye, even on Danger Island— 
even now, this very day!” And with a sweep of his stumpy arm he pointed to a 
heap of packing cases, on one of which sat a flashily dressed native of the Lower 
Islands, presumably the wireless operator. 


“Wireless telegraphy will be a great blessing to the palm-encrusted isles of the 



Southern Sea,” Tibbitts told us, “a great blessing to the brown brothers, so 
happy, so free from the trials and tribulations of the outside world!” Smiling 
beatifically, Tibbitts stated that the government had donated thousands of pounds 
to send this great and beautiful warship. “And even now,” he claimed, his voice 
bathetic, “your white brothers are tossing on their sleeping mats, harassed over 
the plight of the poor Danger Islanders, so happy and free from care, who have 
no wireless communication with the outside world. But your white brothers will 
weep with joy and relief”—and here Tibbitts shed a tear by way of 
illustration-“when they learn that even the last outpost is blessed with that 
marvelous creation of the intellect of modem man—wireless telegraphy!” 

Through force of habit Tibbitts paused here to give the neighbors an opportunity 
to applaud, but as none of them had ever heard of that manner of recognizing 
forceful oratory he covered his confusion with an “Ahem!”, delivered another 
neat peroration, and then followed Horatio to the banquet hall. 

He had to pay for his blarney by eating great gobs of Susanna’s nauseous 
birthday feast, but there was a spark of heroism in him: he ate with a semblance 
of heartiness and even made an after-dinner speech in which, incidentally, he 
repeated his former one. 

The neighbors were regaled with music, but it did not harmonize with the 
primitive background. The stirring march, the seductive waltz, the frisky 
mazurka made us laugh. We felt a sort of vicarious humiliation because of the 
humiliation we believed the bandsmen must be feeling, and because of this we 
gave each musician a pandanus-leaf hat as a solace for his failure to lift us on the 
wings of song. 

While the band played, the politician drank tea and shook hands, the Augustuses 
dashed every which way without the slightest idea which way they were 
dashing, I assorted some of the mail and made the acquaintance of Pure, the 
wireless operator. Then the navigating officer of Percival suggested that I go 
aboard with him and “have a spot.” 

Now, “friends” have been quoted as stating that I am both irresponsible and 
incapable of sustained exertion. These “friends” should have seen me aboard the 
great warship—after the spot. God knows how I got through with everything. 
There, being a dentist aboard, I went to him as soon as I was through with the 
navigating officer. He was a very young and pleasantly ingenuous dentist. Like 



all dentists, he asked me questions when my mouth was full of things. Why do 
dentists invariably ask—“What is your opinion of the European crisis?” when 
one’s mouth is full of lint, mirrors, cotton wool, rubber gadgets, instruments, and 
fingers? Are they sadists? If so, do they not derive enough vicious pleasure from 
drilling into nerves and pulling the wrong teeth without adding to their depraved 
satisfaction by observing the poor fool trying to reply courteously when his 
mouth is full of things? Barbers have the same nasty habit of asking questions 
when they are shaving a man’s upper lip or when they have his face swathed in 
hot towels. 

However, this creature was not so depraved as most of them. He worked rapidly. 
Young and spry, he literally leaped from one end of the cabin to the other. He 
sprang here for the saliva ejector, dove there for a pellet of amalgam, leaped 
hither for the novocain, dashed thither for the dental forceps. After an hour of 
this, when he had removed a few of the properties from my mouth, I managed to 
mention that the Percival might sail while I was still aboard. 

At this the very young dentist whisked to the doorway, shrilled, “Steward!” and, 
when that man had appeared, shouted. “Dental Surgeon X sends his respects to 
the commanding officer and requests that Percival delay sailing a half hour. Very 
urgent dental work!” 

That’s the way we are on the outposts of progress. It is nothing at all to have one 
of His Majesty’s ships held up for half an hour while we get a tooth filled. 

When the dentist was through I asked for the bill, but he waved the detail aside. 
“Quite all right!” he cried. “Always glad to be of service to men on the outlying 
islands!” 

Percival did not delay sailing on my account, for, back on deck again, I saw a 
fleet of canoes crossing the reef and shallows, with Honorable Tibbitts bulging 
over the gunwales of one of them. I realized that there was no time to lose if I 
wished to buy any provisions, so I got a sailor to lead me to the canteen, and 
there, with sweeps of the arm, I cleaned the place out. Then I bought a great 
heap of provisions from the victualing officer, exchanged three hundred dollars 
into British currency, cadged some medicine from the doctor, sat drinking and 
yarning in the wardroom, and was presented with a case of whiskey by the 
officers of His Majesty’s ship. When finally I was helped to the accommodation 
ladder I was in the condition any South Sea trader should be in when one of His 



Majesty’s ships is in the offing. I rolled into Araipu’s boat; we gave three rousing 
cheers for the King, the Queen, the British Navy, and Honorable Tibbitts, then 
we started for shore, with Horatio in another boat, abeam of us. 

I was sober enough to see that Horatio was peeved. He reckoned he had not 
shined; a trader had taken the wind out of his sails; Ropati had bought a boatload 
of provisions, including many cartons of lollipops, and, worse, Ropati had 
acquired two amalgam fillings in his front teeth—fillings that the maidens would 
examine and admire for months to come—while he had managed to beg and buy 
scarcely anything. But I was tight enough to laugh off his sour looks. I told him 
he had made an indelible impression on Honorable Tibbitts; that undoubtedly the 
newspapers would contain columns and columns about the efficient way the 
resident agent of Danger Island had handled with deft and sure hands such a big 
problem as Percival’s unexpected arrival had created. In fact I kept tossing 
bouquets at Horatio all the way to the beach at Yato. Also I promised him a pair 
of manowar shoes, a bag of onions, and a carton of lollipops, whereupon he 
condescended to forgive me and, tacitly understood, not to arrest Desire again, as 
he is always liable to do when peeved at me. 

So I rolled up the beach, rolled through Leeward Village, rolled on to the 
causeway, and rolled into the fishpond, to the complete gratification of the 
villagers (the rescue gang), who had been waiting impatiently for several hours. 
The gang escorted me to the trading station, where Desire and her sisters were 
waiting for me with a dry suit of clothes laid out, and where my boatsmen were 
storing the warship provisions. 

Desire—the dear!—likes to see me happy now and then. It breaks the monotony 
of atoll life; it transforms me from the strong, silent man whom she obeys but 
does not understand into a cheerful, whooping youth whom she bosses and 
understands perfectly. She is wise enough to take charge of the menage when I 
am reverting to type. This evening she decided it would be unsafe to sail back to 
Ko, so she herded her sisters into our canoe and ordered them to bend their backs 
to the paddles. 

It was night by the time we had worked our way into the lagoon, but, like 
myself, the moon was nearly full. Lolling in the canoe, my feet on the gunwales, 
my cork helmet on the back of my head, I, pausing now and again to refresh 
myself from a bottle of Highland Dew, made the girls a dozen better speeches 
than Honorable Tibbitts had made, while betimes sisters-in-law paddled 



leisurely. 


Halfway across the lagoon we were passed by Horatio Augustus, sailing to 
Matauea with dozens of brats, wives, and retainers. And, incredible though it 
seemed, five minutes later we were passed by him again, sailing, this time, back 
to the main islet. 

“I want you to keep sober, Ropati!” he called sullenly. “If you get drunk and go 
mnning after women, both Susanna and I shall be quite angry!” 

“Okay, Horatio!” I whooped, knowing he was merely restoring the last stones on 
his defensive wall. Then I yelled: “Why are you sailing back to the main islet?” 

Horatio might have lied out of it, but he didn’t. Perhaps he was too peeved to lie. 
“I forgot my teeth!” he snarled, and the boat passed on into the night. 

It must be a Sunday morning! Just now, as I tried to make an entry in my journal, 
Desire entered silently. My first intimation of her was a fugitive waft of Tiare 
Tahiti perfume, at first mingling with and then displacing the smell of the moldy 
trade goods. And I heard her little voice, speaking banteringly: 

“Ongi, Ropati [Kiss me, Ropati]!” 

I knew it was a Sunday. I knew it before turning to gaze at her in all her Sunday- 
go-to-meeting loveliness: a light blue voile dress with pink roses scattered over 
it, a white straw hat with a red ribbon, a pearl-shell pendant on a real gold chain, 
a ring with three cream-colored pearls. Her hair was done up in European 
fashion, with a wavy lock patted down on each temple; and I could see that she 
had used powder and rouge for the first time, sparingly and therefore 
charmingly. Also, there was an underthing of pure silk, and another underthing 
no less precious; and I knew she wore these things because, childlike, she 
showed me she was wearing all the presents I had given her. 

“You are lovely, Desire,” I said; “but next Sunday I want you to be Miss 
Memory. Put on your old clothes and we will go for a picnic.” 

“Yes, Ropati,” as she leaned over to kiss me lightly lest she spoil her make-up. 
“Ongi, Ropati!” and she toddled off to church. 

Concerning Desire’s sister Tangi, I am worried about her. She has a persistent 



cough and often is feverish at night—yet there is no keeping her from going to 
the outer beach with her boy. When I hear someone coughing on this island it 
fills me with dismay, for tuberculosis is our most deadly affliction. Half the 
deaths are due to it; I have never known of an arrested case. Oh well (again); but 
this time many people care—Tangi’s boy friend, Desire, and I, among others. 

Let me think of something pleasanter to write about. 

While the last schooner was here an Adventist missionary stopped ashore, guest 
of the Augustuses. He was intelligent, witty, broadminded—until he got astride 
his pet mania, Adventism, when he would lose all contact with solid earthly 
things. 

Desire attended one of the Adventist’s outpourings of the True Faith, and she 
was greatly impressed by all he said, though she believed not a word of it. A few 
days ago, recalling the service, she said to me playfully: 

“The end of the world is very near, Ropati, so I think we’d better join the 
Adventist’s Chapel. Next year or may be the year after there is going to be a 
terrible explosion, and the world will burst into little pieces! Then all the 
Catholics and the Missionary Society Christians and the heathens like you and 
William will tumble down to Hell; but the Adventists will grow wings and fly to 
Heaven like little white ghost terns or maybe frigate birds!” 

Then she went on, her laughter accompanying her words: “Won’t it be funny to 
see that old Adventist Manea fluttering up in the clouds, with his big elephantiac 
legs swinging back and forth like bags of copra! Or old Mr. Breadfruit, who has 
elephantiasis in the other place! ” And the little realist, throwing herself back on 
the sleeping mat, screamed with laughter. 

Well, the next day I went for my usual walk through the taro beds of the main 
islet and along the beach to Utupoa; and presently I met the entire male 
congregation of the Adventist Chapel, led by their native pastor, carrying slabs 
of coral to build a new church. Recalling the near approach of the millennium, I 
asked the pastor how long it would take to build the church. 

“Oh, maybe ten years,” he replied. 

“You’d better hurry,” I advised. “You’ll be worshiping in a golden church before 
ten years are up. End of the world next year, or maybe the year after.” 



Because it was a Sunday morning I told Desire to meet me on Utupoa Point 
when the people were all safely in church; then, when the church bell had 
sounded, I took my shotgun from its peg on the wall, filled my pockets with 
cartridges, and started toward the windward reef. 

Presently I heard a clapping sound a little to one side of the path, and, on making 
a detour, soon came to my old friend the deaf-mute Letter. He was chopping 
down the biggest hernandia tree on Danger Island. It was immense! It looked to 
be the biggest tree in the world! Particularly so in contrast to hairy little 
Quasimodo sitting by it, a boy-scout hatchet in his hands. Letter had chopped a 
tiny notch in one of the twelve-foot buttresses. I wondered if he had been roused 
by a surge of the masculine protest that Jung writes about so convincingly. I gave 
him a piece of tobacco, whereupon he made the notch a little bigger; then, more 
than likely, he went home to wait till next year, when perhaps another visitation 
of masculine protest might rouse him into giving another whack or two at the 
buttress. 

Dear old Letter! If Desire had not been waiting for me, I should have asked him 
to come with me to Ko. True, he is a congenital beggar—but not a vicious one. 
When I meet him there is no mistaking the genuine pleasure that lights up his old 
eyes or the respect with which he kisses my hand, but a moment later the habit 
of mendicancy overcomes him and he cadges, by hand talk, anything cadgable— 
tobacco preferred. Outside his duties as town gossip his principal occupation is 
cadging tobacco; and, so far as that goes, he makes the two occupations join 
forces, weighing out, as it were, so much scandalous gossip for so much tobacco. 
Trotting hither and thither on skinny, crooked legs, his head thrust forward as 
though he were trying to keep pace with his beaklike nose, sniffing the air, he 
follows the odor of tobacco from the Point of Smoking Seas to the Point of 
Utupoa and the Point of Yato; and if, sometime when tobacco is scarce, we slip 
to the outer beach to enjoy our pipe, after the third puff we will hear Letter’s 
footfalls crackling through the bush. And when he finds us he will sit by us and 
gaze at us with the fond and begging eyes of a dog waiting for his bone. 

However, having tobaccoed the deaf-mute this Sunday morning, I walked to 
where the Point of Utupoa ends on the reef highway between the main islet and 
Ko, and there I found Desire sitting under the big tournefortia bush, her back to 
me. 


“Desire!” I cried, as though I had not asked her to meet me for she understands 



such whimsies. “You here? What grand luck! I am going to Ko Islet, won’t you 
come along?” 

“Yes, Ropati,” she replied; then, correcting herself: “Yes, Mr. Moonlight. I knew 
we were going to do some wicked thing on Sunday—but I don’t care. I’m your 
woman now, so I’m a cowboy, like you.” 

“Now that the Reverend Horatio has gone it won’t be wicked,” I told her. “You 
won’t be put in jail again.” Then, as she rose and stepped to my side, “Come, 
Miss Memory,” I said, “we will escape to Ko Islet and live for the rest of our 
lives hidden in the jungle.” 

Then we left the point to walk along the dry brick-red reef toward the far islet. 
Sometimes I would stop to bring down a curlew or a sandpiper when it came 
within range, or to light my pipe and suck on it with the relish of a William the 
Heathen; and as we moved forward, plucking the feathers from the birds, now 
and then glancing over our shoulders at the main islet growing misty and far 
away, gradually there came over me a feeling of keen pleasurableness. I 
anticipated with zest the meal of grilled birds, the fresh, cold drinking nuts of 
Ko, the healing solitude of an uninhabited place. 

The first mile was delightful, for the sun was still low in the sky and only the 
largest waves washed over the outer reef to its inner edge where we walked. In 
the pools were scores of blue parrot fish. They finned for cover at our approach 
or, ostrich-like, thrust their heads into the holes and crevices, leaving the greater 
part of their bodies exposed. We could have caught them with our bare hands, 
but we left them undisturbed, for there would be plenty of sea food close to the 
islet. 

After the first mile we came to a tiny coconut islet. As often before, it reminded 
me of the ones pictured in comic papers: a quarter acre of sand, a dozen coconut 
trees, and a fringe of bush. Only the castaway sailor, his wrecked raft, and his 
signal flag were missing. There we stopped to pull down drinking nuts with a 
split frond tied together at its outer extremity and to drink them. 

The next mile was over a series of sand cays broken by channels where the 
waves washed into the lagoon, a foot or two deep, and where inordinately 
inquisitive, or hungry—I have never been sure which—sharks rushed toward us, 
only to be frightened away by a great beating on the water with our staffs. At 



times even this did not suffice and we must jump from the water when the brutes 
were only a few inches from our feet. 

There was a mile of open reef between the last sand cay and the islet, and now, 
with the tide coming in, it was waist-deep with flowing water. We started across 
it, knowing that danger was remote, but aware that, should a shark set his heart 
on a human meal, there would be short shrift for us. Once blood was let we 
should have every shark on the reef charging us, for the brutes have some occult 
means of scenting a good meal though it be miles away. 

And the last stretch was through a channel shoulder-deep for me, which means 
that Desire had to swim. But there the sharks kept at a healthy distance, as they 
generally do when one is in deep water. Perhaps, seeing more of the man below 
the surface, they realize that he may turn out to be a dangerous enemy, while 
when only his legs are visible they see nothing to prevent their enjoying an 
unusual morsel. But we knew that a shark would mean business should he attack 
us here. 

It was late afternoon when we climbed up the beach of Matautu. There we built a 
wigwam of palm fronds, close to a copse of ngangie bushes; then Desire cleaned 
the birds and started to grill them and a big coconut crab that had been waiting 
for us at the edge of the bush, while I went in search of drinking nuts. All the 
trees thereabouts seemed unusually high, but a quarter of a mile along the beach 
I found a low tree leaning over the water. I made a strop out of my belt, put my 
feet in it so the under part of the strop crossed the instep, and jumped on the tree 
in the native manner. Thus my feet were on either side of the bole while the belt 
held them firmly against it. I climbed by raising my feet as I clung to the tree 
with my arms, then gripping the tree with my feet as I straightened up and took 
another hold with my arms. 

There were ten nuts of the right age for drinking, as I knew by tapping them and 
listening to their sound. These I threw in the water and, climbing down, brought 
them ashore. When I husked them on a pointed stick thrust in a crabhole, two 
were broken. I drank what water was left in them, scraped out the tender flesh 
with my thumbnail and ate it, then walked back to the wigwam. 

Desire had cooked the birds to a fine crisp brown, and now the fat from the 
coconut crab was oozing on the coals, sputtering and filling the air with a savory 
odor. As it was nearly dark she had built a fire of husks and spathes; it broke the 



gloom, touched the lagoon ripples with aurorean lights, and guided Desire’s 
nimble fingers as she plaited frond food mats for our feast. 

Aye, we feasted that night. Desire ate four curlews, and, I enough crab fat to 
make six civilized men violently ill. We were midway in our meal when Desire 
motioned to one side where three coconut crabs had crawled into the firelight. 
They were semaphoring to us with their great claws, while their little anterior 
prehensile legs worked back and forth toward their mouths, mimicking us, 
perhaps, or beckoning for us to follow them into the black jungle to feast on raw 
flesh and coconut meat, or perhaps intimating that they too could do with a little 
cooked food. Gradually they approached us, and, by the time we were gnawing 
the last wing bones they had adopted themselves into the family. We threw them 
scraps of their fellow coconut crab, which they devoured with the gratitude of 
cannibals. But when our meal was finished Desire picked up the cheeky crabs 
and threw them far into the bush, lest they try to share her bed as well as her 
meal. She had no faith in the integrity of coconut crabs. 

Presently we lay on a bed of leaves close to the wigwam, and there we talked 
desultorily, smoked, and watched the full moon emerge, dull red and enormous, 
from behind a great heap of cumulus clouds. For a moment the color of the 
moon bewildered me, then: “Miss Memory! It is an eclipse!” I cried. “Did you 
ever see an eclipse before?” 

“Yes, Mr. Moonlight; when I was a little girl and you were a trader for Captain 
Viggo. I remember that it was the night of the big dance at Yato Village, and the 
dance was stopped while the people watched the moon go red with blood, and 
while old King-of-the-Sky told us the story of Lingutaimoa.” 

“Tell me the story, Miss Memory—it will be a bedtime story; then we will crawl 
into the wigwam and go to sleep.” 

Desire rolled on her side, laid her arm across me, and in her soft, gentle voice 
half sang, half chanted, in the manner of Polynesian storytelling: 

“There is a woman named Lingutaimoa, living on some coral isle in the South 
Seas. A long time ago she caught a manini fish about as big as the end of your 
finger. She thought the fish was pretty, so she made it her pet. First she put it in a 
coconut shell full of sea water, and every day she fed it bits of hermit crab. 
Before long the manini fish grew too big for the shell, so she put it in a wooden 



pod bowl and fed it pieces of land crab. Then, when the fish was too big for the 
pod bowl, she put it in a canoe and fed it pieces of lobster, until finally it was so 
big she had to set it free in the lagoon. 

“But the manini fish remembered Lingutaimoa, and every time the woman went 
to the beach it would swim to her and eat from her hand. This continued for a 
long time until finally the fish was many fathoms long and as big around as a 
ship. 

“Now, it happened that one day Yina, who lives in the moon, dropped her 
fishline to the lagoon of Lingutaimoa’s coral isle, and the manini fish took her 
hook! Yina pulled the fish up to the moon; she called all the gods and goddesses 
to her and showed them the fish, and they all danced with happiness, thinking of 
the big feast they were to have. 

“That same day Lingutaimoa went to the lagoon and called: 'Manini fish! 
Manini fish! Come to her gift-woman! Here is food for you, my manini fish!’ 
But though she called and called no fish came. Then Lingutaimoa wept, and she 
ran through the village, asking first the old people, then the middle-aged people, 
then the young people if they had seen her manini fish; but no one had seen it 
save a little child, who told Lingutaimoa that a fishline had dropped down from 
the sky and the manini fish had been pulled up to the moon. 

“When night came Lingutaimoa walked along the beach, staring at the moon, 
and soon she saw the blood of her manini fish spilling over the surface of the 
moon until it was red. Then Lingutaimoa knew that Yina had killed her fish. She 
wept; but next day she went to the lagoon, caught another little manini fish, and 
made it her pet. When it had grown big Yina caught it too. And so it goes: every 
few years the gods in the moon cut up Lingutaimoa’s fish—as you can see now, 
Mr. Moonlight, for the moon is red with its blood.” 

Desire ended her story with a sleepy sigh, cuddled close to me, and fell asleep 
with her head pillowed on my arm; and long before the manini fish’s blood had 
dripped from the moon I too was fast asleep. 

“Who is Mr. Manowar Hawk?” Desire asked me. 

She and her sister Tangi were sitting on the back balcony. They had a scrap of 
note paper before them and apparently were snickering over the words scribbled 
on it. 



“How should I know? I never go to the House of Youth any more, so I don’t 
know what names the boys take.” 

Desire turned to Tangi. “You are sure Ropati didn’t give you this letter?” she 
asked her sister. 

“No, Desire; I told you someone threw it at my feet last night.” 

“Where were you?” 

“I was walking by the churchyard wall.” 

“You weren’t passing under the trading-station balcony?” 

“No, Desire.” 

“Well, then, it couldn’t have been my Mr. Manowar Hawk... . Maybe it was 
Bribery, Jr.?” 

At mention of the crooked-legged grandson of the crooked-legged deacon Tangi 
turned up her nose in a way that might have humiliated Master Bribery, and she 
shrugged her shoulders in a way that might have humiliated him still more. Then 
Desire handed me the note, and I read: 


TO MY LITTLE WHITE TERN, MY SWEET-SMELLING LITTLE BIRD: 

This letter is a meeting between Mr. Manowar Hawk and Miss White Tern. Is 
my little bird well, or is my little bird ill? Your big manowar hawk is well, he is 
not ill. 

Oh, little Miss White Tern, why do you let me die of weeping? Fly to me, little 
bird, Fly to me where I wait for you every night when the curfew rings, behind 
the churchyard wall. 

Oh, little Miss White Tern, I will lure you to my love nest with a bottle of hair 
oil. Come to me quickly behind the churchyard wall. 


MR. MANOWAR HAWK 



Now at last I have a purpose in life! I must discover what cheeky native buck has 
lately assumed the fraternity name of Mr. Manowar Hawk. Think of a Danger 
Islander presuming to make a date with such an exquisite creature as sweet little 
Tangi!—and Tangi’s cough daily becoming worse! The two of them should be 
spanked—or, better, in Tangi’s case, put in the hospital. 

Tangi is head over heels in love with a brand-new boy, and this in spite of the 
fact that I am now keeping her at the station and trying to nurse her back to 
health—hopeless task! 

One morning, some weeks ago, I entered the cookhouse less noisily than usual, 
and there I saw the lovely girl sitting on an empty kerosene case, staring 
abstractedly into the fire, her hands clasped in her lap in a tense manner, 
coughing at times. The kettle was boiling away merrily, but Tangi knew it not. 
The time had long since passed for making coffee, but Tangi’s thoughts were on 
the “moonlit solitudes mild” of the outer beach. A fine cavalla waited on the 
table to be fried, but Tangi was still in the arms of her gift-boy. When I had 
roused her from the state of erotic dissociation I leaned over to ask in a whisper 
the name of her wonderboy. 

“Pio!” she whispered back, with a catch in her breath, and almost burst into 
tears. 

Pio!—Mr. Manowar Hawk, formerly Mr. Horse, my bosom friend! Big, 
beautiful, brainless Pio! Pio of the striped pants, the curly hair, the cocolele, the 
noble mien! 

And now they are to be married!—despite my protest. This morning Desire and I 
watched them walk past the station on their way to Parson Sea Foam’s house, 
where they would sign their names in the Big Book. Tangi was clothed in white 
muslin and Desire’s black shoes. Beautiful, brainless Pio, his cocolele for a 
wonder left at home, walked proudly in front of his girl, his handsome figure 
clad in my best white suit. 

“Pataitai [How wasteful]! ” Desire murmured. And as I stared at the soft folds of 
muslin over the soft, budding breasts of poor little Tangi I agreed, as usual, with 
Desire. 



Chapter VI 


Satyr Bones is dead, and I shall write his obituary on this hideously noisy night 
in the trading station. 

Bones lived to a ripe old age, but he never admitted it. Up to the night before his 
death his voice was as stentorian as ever: to him a whisper was a mighty bellow 
that reverberated across the lagoon like a clap of thunder. Though his flesh 
sagged, it told the tale of a mighty man in the true Danger Island manner: mighty 
in love and eating. But now Bones is dead. 

He was famous for his gargantuan guttlings. He alone of all the Danger Islanders 
had three native ovens in his cookhouse, and all three were heaped with food 
every day so the grown-old hero could eat his way through them, with many a 
hearty belch and smacking noise. 

His teeth were a full inch long from gums to tips, yellow-brown, as big as a 
boar’s tusk. Only a few of them had been broken by gnawing thighbones and 
cracking coconut shells. His cookhouse reminded one of the cave of a Cyclops. 
Perhaps in future ages a party of archeologists will smell out the site of Bones’s 
cookhouse and will excavate to find stratum on stratum of fishbones, turtle 
shells, pig skulls, clamshells, feathers, charred faggots; and perhaps the 
archeologists will write a learned monograph about the large tribe of primitive 
Puka-Pukans that gorged for many centuries on this particular spot, while in fact 
Satyr Bones, “alone and singlehanded,” built up the great bed of refuse over the 
span of a few short years. 

When the satyr was in funds he would buy a fifty-pound bag of flour, toss it to 
his woman, and bellow: “We’ll have a white man’s snack today, old woman! 

Boil me this bag of flour!” 

So the gigantic woman would herd together her female relatives, scores of 
coconuts would be grated, the meat would be mixed with the flour, and great 
gobs of the mixture would be dropped into kerosene tins of boiling water. It 
came out a food solid enough for an army mule—a light snack for big-bellied, 
barrel-chested, fangtoothed Bones. 

Bones’s wife survives him. What an Amazon she is! She reminds one of 



Michelangelo’s Cumaean Sibyl—big-boned, muscular, forbidding. One day, 
when I held out my hand to her, forgetting that she had never heard of that form 
of greeting, she put a baked taro in my hand! Force of habit, force of habit. 
When Bones held out his hand it meant only one of two things: food or woman. 

It is said that when she was about to give birth to Strange-Eyes she drove 
everyone away, then braced herself in her cookhouse with her feet against one 
post and her arms around two others. At the last labor pain she, Samson-like, 
pulled down the two posts and pushed over the third one. The house tumbled 
down, leaving her squatting in the square space between two tie beams and two 
wall plates, her head thrust through the thatching. Thus she could hear but not 
see the daughter that had at that instant arrived on the mundane scene. That’s the 
kind of woman Bones left behind him. God forbid that Desire ever become such 
an Amazon as she. 

I left the trading station to go to the outer beach and escape the hideous death 
chant over the body of Bones. On the way I passed First-Born’s house. Six old 
ladies, sitting under the eaves, broke from their rapt attention in the chant long 
enough to have grand fun speculating on the probable purpose of my walk. 

“Whee-ee!” one of them screamed. “Ropati is going to the outer beach!” 

“Whoo-oo!” another crone shrieked. “What will he do on the outer beach?” 

“He is going to play tango-tango! The Yato girls are waiting for him!” 

“No; it is Miss Legs! Whee-ee! Miss Legs, eh, Ropati?” 

“Whoo-oo!” 

“Why doesn’t Ropati take us?” 

“Pss-ss!” 

“Ropati doesn’t like old copra nuts; he likes the young drinking nuts!” 

“Luck to you, Ropati! May their bellies swell!” This last being the most 
complimentary thing that can be said (on Danger Island) to a young man out 
walking at night. 



Though I looked this way and that in the bush and scanned the outer beach, I 
saw no beautiful maidens, so, with a sigh of relief, I walked to the big 
tournefortia bush close to the shallows, made myself comfortable sprawled on 
one of its limbs, and rolled a pandanus-leaf cigarette. 

For a little while I stared abstractedly across the shallows to where moonlight 
brought the wall of reef combers in dim relief against the sea and its continent of 
horizon clouds. I inhaled the fragrant perique, listened to the thunder of breakers, 
and wondered why it did not disturb me. Were there a man on the reef, shouting, 
the magic of this night would have been lost. 

“Now,” I thought, “this would be a fine place to build a little hut. On noisy 
nights Desire and I could come here to sleep.” 

Then, as often before, it occurred to me that Yato Point, to westward across the 
bay from the trading station, would be an ideal place to build a permanent home. 
It was well away from Leeward Village; there was usually a fresh trade wind 
from across the bay or the fishpond; it was clean, almost free from mosquitoes, 
and there was a fine bathing beach. Why suffer in Central Village? My presence 
was required in the trading station only twenty days or so a year. Why not have 
the Leeward villagers build a house on Yato Point, a sleeping hut out here under 
the tournefortia bush, and a country place on Frigate Bird Islet? My chest was 
full of silver shillings and pound notes: why not spend some of them for the 
health of my soul? 

Then there was Desire to consider. I am firmly resolved to marry her in the very 
near future, and how nice it will be to lead my bride to a beautiful home— 
instead of to the musty trading station! 

And so my determination was formed. I rolled another cigarette, smoked it 
slowly, and then, forgetting the death chant in the enthusiasm of a new idea, I 
walked along the beach, hunting for the trail that leads directly to the station. But 
I missed it, took the wrong trail, got lost inland, and wandered at haphazard 
through the bush until suddenly I was halted by the sound of voices. 

I moved slowly toward the sound, and presently I saw, in a little glade 
surrounded by magnolias, a boy and a girl. They were illumined dimly by 
moonlight slanting over the tops of the bushes. The girl wore a cotton chemise, 
the boy a pareu; there were flower crowns on their heads and gardenia buds 



behind their ears and thrust at random in their hair. Pagan lovers, they sat facing 
each other, with the girl’s legs thrown over the boy’s. They slapped their thighs 
rhythmically and sang a delightfully naughty song for, I suppose, the frankly 
avowed purpose of exciting themselves. 

Staring at them, I became filthily jealous. I wondered if a ghostly noise or a 
fiendish howl would scare the lovers away, and, when they were separated, if I 
could catch the girl. William had done something of the kind in the old days, I 
recalled. Then I remembered Desire and the palace I was to lead her to. 

When I climbed up the beach of Frigate Bird Islet the people were waiting for 
me. “Life to you, Ropati!” they shouted, while one of the young men ran 
forward with a drinking nut. 

I returned the greeting, drank my nut, then beckoned to old poker-playing Mr. 
Breadfruit and took him aside. 

“Now,” I said when we were sitting in the lee of his cookhouse and the old 
gentleman had got his elephantiac things in a comfortable position, “I have made 
my belly humble, and have come to you, my friend, to ask a great favor. I have 
come as a child of yours.” 

Mr. Breadfruit blinked and stiffened for the shock. “Eh, eh, eh!” he muttered, 
then reached for the tin of tobacco I held out and started to roll a cigarette. 

“I intend to marry soon, as you know, and so I wish to build a little house on 
your land, the Point of Yato. Just a little thatched hut that I can lead mv bride to 
and we can sleep and eat, away from the noise and heat of Central Village.” 

“Eh, eh, eh!” Breadfruit muttered again, noncommittally. 

“So I have made my belly humble, and I have come to you to ask you to let me 
build this little thatched hut on your land. My wife and I will live in it until we 
are tired of it; then the house will be yours.” 

Breadfruit lit his cigarette, smoked, and asked: “You will give the house to no 
one else?” 

“No, Breadfruit; Desire and I will live in it; but when we are through with it we 
will give it to you.” 



“Very well, Ropati,” said Breadfruit. “Because you are like a child of mine, and 
the girl you wish to marry is like a child of mine; and because you have made 
your belly humble; and because you are a stranger with no land on our island, I 
will let you build on my point. I will make my belly humble even as you have 
made yours, and let you build on my beautiful Point of Yato.” 

So that was done. These atoll people will often let one use their land so long as 
they know that, when one leaves, the land will return to them. They will let one 
live on their land for a hundred years so long as the land will return eventually to 
their lineage; but they will not sell outright, and in this they are wise. Long ago I 
gave up the idea of trying to own land. It can be done on some of the high 
islands, but on the atolls there is so little land that every inch of it is precious. 
Yesterday I literally compelled Breadfruit to part with his property. With 
shameless dissimulation I made my belly humble (akaaka toku manava), 
knowing that Breadfruit would be unable to refuse me, while had I offered him a 
bag of money he would have turned me down—as already he had done a dozen 
times. 

We called a meeting in the community house, and I put the following proposition 
to the villagers: I offered to pay them five pounds New Zealand ($20) a month to 
take care of all my wants except for clothes and European food. They were to 
build my three houses, as well as any outhouses I might need, and to keep them 
in repair. They were to cook my food, laundry my clothes, carry water, chop 
firewood, furnish a canoe and paddlers to take me to and from Frigate Bird Islet, 
and they were to allow Desire and me to visit Frigate Bird Islet at any time we 
wished and stay as long as we pleased. This last was a considerable concession, 
for the islet is under a strict tapu eight months of the year. But on the other hand 
five pounds is a large sum on Danger Island, and the people know we will not 
disturb the sea birds or chop down trees. 

They accepted the offer, and will start taking care of me (and, later, Desire, I 
hope) when they return to the main islet. We will move into the new house when 
it is built, which should be in about two months. 

This morning I made a budget. It seems to me that it represents the minimum on 
which a white man and his wife can live decently on this island. But to live on 
this sum a man must have simple tastes: he must not require tinned fruit, jam, 
butter, asparagus, pork and beans, hair oil. To me it represents a satisfactory life; 
to another man it would represent dire poverty. 



To Leeward Village for food, rent, servants ... 5 pounds 

The six essentials: soap, kerosene, tobacco, matches, tea, sugar ... 2 pounds 

Clothes ... 1 pound 

European goods: biscuits, rice, onions, bully beef, typing materials, luxuries, etc. 
... 3 pounds 

Total (per month) ... 11 pounds 

The last item can be reduced during hard times, and during very hard times the 
budget can be reduced to 0 pounds, for no man goes hungry on this island 
whether he be native or white. 

This budget gives one of the reasons why I refuse to return to civilization. Here I 
am rich enough to indulge in marriage, but I would be a pauper in my own home 
town. 

Here at PukaPuka, even though I become penniless, I shall eat, sleep under a 
roof, be clothed, have a mistress or a wife, an occasional bottle of mangaro beer, 
numerous servants; but with my assured income of fifty dollars a month I 
correspond on this island to a millionaire in civilization. I am fabulously 
wealthy; my income is as great as the combined incomes of my six hundred and 
fifty neighbors! I have many servants: a washerwoman, Mama as head cook, a 
pretty little housemaid and often several of her sisters, two fishermen, two 
women food gatherers, two assistant cooks, two youths to climb coconut trees, 
gather firewood, carry water, paddle my canoe, and William the Heathen as my 
private bard and comedian. Of course one person could do all this work, but why 
should he? I do not have to feed any of my servants; I do not have to clothe them 
or house them; and their wages come out of the five pounds a month I pay to 
Central Village but will soon pay to Leeward Village. Moreover, these people 
like to work in pairs, and they are apt to throw up the sponge and sneak off 
someplace to sleep if there is too much to do. Old Mr. Scratch, for instance, said 
to me the other day: “My work today will be sharpening my knife.” He took the 
whole day at it, too! 

It is to my increased prestige and therefore to my well-being to have many 
servants. The more I have the more I am looked up to as a superior person, and 
the more I am looked up to the simpler it becomes to get things done quickly and 



cheerfully. 


But no matter how wealthy a man is, how simple his tastes, or how wisely his 
budget has been prepared, he can live happily in these islands only if he retains 
his status as a white man. He must not go native. It is a pleasant thought to dally 
with in civilization, a disastrous one to put into practice. When a white man goes 
native the people brand him as no better than themselves. Now, probably he is no 
better; but if he goes native he will not be as good, and he will find that soon the 
natives look down on him. Why shouldn’t they? He cannot compete with them 
in their own culture: he cannot catch a fish as well as they, climb coconut trees, 
build a canoe, or catch a turtle. If he tries to do these things he makes himself 
ridiculous: plainly he is inferior to the natives. But he can, by living as a white 
man, prove his foreign culture to be, in many ways, superior to the native 
culture, and this he should do. I do not mean that he should dine in a dinner 
jacket and sleep in a brass bedstead, or that he should refrain from a fishing 
excursion or a turtle hunt: I mean only that in his general attitude toward life he 
should remain true to his race. 

Natives want to be proud of their white man—as they call a South Sea trader like 
myself. They are disappointed when their white man does not live up to 
expectations. They want to admire him, brag about him, serve him in the grand 
manner—and glow themselves from his reflected glory. 

Fifty-eight men and fifty women worked six days, and on the seventh day they 
are resting—today. Result: the best house on Danger Island. It is so beautiful that 
yesterday evening, when I was walking back to the station, I nearly fell off the 
causeway through craning my neck around to stare at it from different angles and 
perspectives; and when I got to the trading station I took out my binocular to 
gaze at the house from the Central Village beach. The neighbors claimed I was 
staring at the lovely Yato maidens. Devil take them! These low Danger Islanders 
habitually interpret my innocent acts into the language of sex—the only 
language they know. 

I must tell about building the house. Monday and Tuesday the young men 
gathered material while the old men sat by the house site braiding and laying 
sennit, a mile or more of which was needed, for it takes the place of nails in a 
native house. Pandanus trees were cut down by the score, the trunks trimmed, 
barked, and carried to Yato; some six hundred dry coconut fronds were gathered 
for roofing sheets and sunk in the shallows where the salt water would soak into 



them and preserve them; the wattling was cut from the aerial roots of pandanus, 
barked, split, and stacked to dry. 

These aerial roots have the appearance of broom handles. They are straw yellow 
but vary enough to lighter and darker shades to give a pleasing effect. Also they 
have a dull polish and markings similar to bird’s-eye maple. The roots are split 
in halves, then cut the right length so they will fit between the house posts, their 
ends wedged in grooves, and with two parallel sticks seized on their inner sides. 
The general appearance is that of closed window shutters, each wattling 
overlapping the one below it; to form a wall tight enough for this climate. Rich 
men improve the appearance with a coat of coconut oil, but never with paint, for 
it gives a garish effect. Finally, boring insects never attack pandanus wattling as 
they do the bamboo walls of Tahiti. 

On Wednesday and Thursday there was still no actual construction. The old men 
continued braiding and rolling their sennit, doing a good deal of gossiping 
betimes, as much smoking as they could afford, and frequently laying off for a 
few hours’ sleep. The women plaited the fronds into roofing sheets. The younger 
men chopped out the wattling grooves and made numerous mortises for window 
sills, posts, and such things. 

Each afternoon at about two o’clock a score of men stopped work to take my 
fish net to the reef and catch a thousand or so needlefish, while the village boys 
went to the food reserve for five hundred drinking nuts. This food was divided 
after the day’s toil was done. Fires flared up around the house site; the air 
became heavy with the nidor of grilling fish; the honest laborers relaxed and 
became noisy. 

Friday was the spectacular day, so I watched the work from dawn to sunset, 
sitting by old Mr. Scratch most of the time, talking to him as I watched the house 
rise with the magic of an Aladdin’s palace. 

Though I speak the native tongue as well as does Mr. Scratch, he has the notion 
that, because I am a white man, I have only the sketchiest knowledge of his 
language, and this despite his hearing me interpret for government officials, sing 
native psalms, and, when the home-brew is flowing, give long and detailed 
accounts of my adventures in distant lands. “White men cannot speak Puka- 
Pukan,” is one of our popular delusions, ranking in second place to “There are 
no mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet,” and being about equally popular with 



“Ropati is no fisherman!” The cows! 


Well, it’s no use getting peeved: let the silly animals have their silly delusions. 
Today, as I sat by Mr. Scratch, our conversation went as follows: 

“Wale lelei—lelei wale [House nice-nice house]?” the old gentleman asked, 
repeating his sentence, with the words reversed, for the sake of clarity. 

“Yes, it is an excellent house,” I replied. “I note that they are fixing upright 
wattling under the window sills. Will that be satisfactory?” 

In Monsieur Scratch’s opinion my question was too difficult for a white man to 
ask, so instead of a reply he asked: “‘Wawine lelei—lelei wawine [Woman nice- 
nice woman]?” Then, to ascertain that I had understood him, he pointed to Mrs. 
Little Sea, who was on the lagoon beach, and, putting the palms of his hands 
together, he laid his stubbly cheek on them, closed his eyes, and snored; and 
then, glancing at me meaningfully, he asked: “Lelei? Wawine? Moe?” 

“Perhaps,” I replied testily, “for a certain type of low person it may be pleasant 
to sleep with a woman.” 

Herr Scratch grinned and pretended he had not understood me. He eased his 
shriveled bag of bones to a more comfortable position, and, “‘Kai-kai lelei — 
lelei kai-kai [Eat nice-nice eat]?” he asked. 

So our conversation proceeded desultorily throughout the day, while betimes the 
men warmed to their work. Up went the posts, the plates, the tie beams; deft and 
speedy fingers laid the lashings; rafters, battens, and secondary rafters were 
seized in place; slowly the wattling filled the spaces between the posts. There 
was the clang of bush knives, the thud of axes, the bang of hammers; there were 
the screams of women, the undisciplined whoops of honest laborers—for on this 
atoll each acceleration in speed must be accompanied by a rise in the volume of 
yelling. My capable craftsmen suffered from no inhibitions: their yells resounded 
over the calm water like the panic-stricken cries of a routed army. By the time 
the thatching was being laid, men, women, and children were bellowing in one 
sustained hullabaloo, and even Mr. Scratch and I were voicing a few lusty 
whoops. This may sound like a hyperbole, but it is nothing of the kind. “I speak 
only truth!” (as the missionary affirmed after describing the creation of Eve). 

The noise was so uproarious that I could scarcely hear the noble Scratch 
wheezing in my ear: “Monomono lelei—lelei monomono?” which same I shall 



not even bother to translate. 


The construction was finished on Friday. Saturday—yesterday—the men carried 
white coral gravel for the floor, while the women plaited fifty frond blinds for 
the windows. Also, the men built a cookhouse and a bathhouse and dug a pit for 
mbbish. Finally my cheerful and industrious laborers cleaned up the mess 
incidental to housebuilding. 

In the evening we had a grand feast. I had bought a pig weighing two hundred 
and twenty-one pounds. When he had been unhooked from the scale beam a 
score of the bright young scholars from Horatio’s school tried to calculate how 
much I should pay at threepence a pound. Using sticks, they covered the sand 
with calculations, multiplying by three, then dividing by twelve, and twenty. 
Each of the score of mathematicians arrived at a different sum, so, once again to 
demonstrate the white man’s superior intelligence, I marked on the sand: 

221 divided by 4 = 55/3 = 2 pounds 15/3 

Then, to shame the despicable Scratch, who had been standing behind me 
whining, “Puaka lelei—lelei puaka [Pig nice—nice pig]?”, I gave the assembled 
villagers a lecture on advanced mathematics. 

While the pig was roasting in a huge native oven the women prepared great 
heaps of taro, some of the young men took the net to the reef, and others went to 
the food reserve for a thousand drinking nuts. 

The food was spread before the community house at dusk. Tapipi made a speech, 
Uncle Scratch said, “‘Kai-kai lelei—lelei kai-kai?” and then I delivered a short 
but witty oration. Finally Luluia & Co. gave us an extemporary dance, and the 
food was divided, each person’s share to be taken to his home and eaten in 
privacy. Nice custom! These atoll people seldom gather round the festive board, 
as we do: they consider eating a vulgar though pleasant occupation best carried 
on in privacy. 

Well, I have already told you that I nearly fell off the causeway. There is only to 
add that on Monday morning my triclinium will be built (I’ll describe it when 
it’s done), a door made for the little room where I will store brew and such 
things, and a few other details attended to. On Tuesday the entire village will 
come to the trading station, manning the biggest canoes on the island, to take 
Desire, myself, and our gear, in the grand manner—with sharkskin drums a- 



booming and maidens a-bursting into song—to our wattle-and-thatch palace on 
Yato Point! 

My house is beautiful. There is no garish paint to distress the eye. The pandanus 
framework, the wattling, and the mats are the color of new-mown hay; the blinds 
and the thatching are russet brown; mats are on the triclinium couches and tables 
and the shelves where I keep lamps and books and such things. There are dashes 
of red in the mat designs—just enough to break the monotony. Patches of pure- 
white coral gravel show here and there on the floor; and, to set off the whole 
scheme, there is, to the east, a view of the azure-blue bay, with the Point of 
Utupoa and the Central Village houses a half mile away. 

Close to the house is shoal water over white sand. The delicate shades vary 
under sunlight and shadow, but it is most beautiful when a rain squall comes 
down from the northwest. Then gusts of wind and rain pass over my house to 
swirl down to the water, and other gusts hurtle across the fishpond. I can hear 
them coming from afar; I can see them meet over the blue shoal water and see 
the sheets of rain eddy and rush away. By Sea Foam’s house, where a little point 
juts into the bay, the tall coconut trees become living creatures, misty now as 
though a gauze curtain were dropped before them, the rain dense as smoke 
among their fronds. 

Through the open window in the sleeping cubicle—where I am now scribbling 
these lines, while betimes Desire, dreamy-eyed, nibbles my shoulder 
abstractedly—I can feel the full force of the trade wind across my face and chest, 
and I can see it pass its fingers through my gift-girl’s hair. 

Across the crescent-shaped bay the houses of Windward Village are white in the 
evening sunlight, but farther back, in the groves, they are scarcely visible. The 
deep shadows suggest sleep, as do the coconut palms. These last droop their 
fronds, in deep and dreamless sleep; but when a faint breeze passes over them, 
whispering a dream image, the fronds stir slightly in their sleep, then rest again 
as the image passes away. 

“I am lost—I am happily lost!” I murmur to Desire. “I am slipping so far from 
the awareness of the world I live in that the dreaming palms are more real to me 
than the men and women of my own blood.” 


I can see also the Central Village houses strung, along the head of the bay, the 



nearest one, three hundred yards away, being the coral-lime residence of Sea 
Foam. Two of his daughters, dabs of red and blue calico, move back and forth 
between the cookhouse and the parsonage. Some days, when the light is such 
that they can make me out, they wave their hands; and if it is calm I can hear 
their laughter, or if the night is calm I can hear the parson singing psalms. 

From Sea Foam’s house the causeway leads to the beach close to the back of my 
house. By craning my neck a little I can see the whole length of it. Like the Lady 
of the Lake, I can watch the villagers passing, to and fro—women with baskets 
of taro on their heads, their bodies straight and supple; men with bunches of 
green coconuts and strings of fish; youths with cocolele’s, their arms around 
their gift-girls, gardenias in their hair; a group of youths, marching slowly, 
singing ... what is it? I seem to have heard it long ago, in a grand opera, when a 
chorus of soldiers marched on the stage shouting an arrogant paean. On Sundays, 
going and coming from church, the villagers pass along the causeway in single 
file. The whole length of it is animated by bouncing, jogging, swaying figures in 
white drill, blue denim, khaki, calico, muslin as colorful as the dawn; in hats 
native and European, derby and straw; in shoes white, black, and yellow, but 
principally no shoes at all. I can watch them coming from early morning service, 
and betimes I can sip my coffee and wonder if the dawn, which I had been 
staring at a moment before, has not become materialized in the costumes of my 
neighbors. 

On Friday afternoon Parson Sea Foam, Vicar Araipu, and Heathen William came 
to the housewarming. There was no one else save Desire, her sisters, and my 
numerous menials, which last appeared at regular intervals to smilingly refill our 
pewter mugs or to pick up the thrashing cavallas that I tossed over the heads of 
my guests and through the doorway. 

Araipu, being a devil-may-care vicar, reclined with me on the triclinium’s cast 
couch in the best Roman manner. Reverend Sea Foam, however, felt it beneath 
his dignity to eat accumbent, so he compromised by heaving one of his great 
elephantiac legs on the south couch. William sprawled all over the west couch, 
while Desire moved between the main house and the cookhouse, directing her 
sisters and the servants in the ways of a European-Roman-South Seas 
establishment. 

“This is a strange house,” Araipu said, “It is like one of those tents Abraham 
used to live in. It is undoubtedly the strangest house on Danger Island.” His eyes 



contracted to pin points, as they always do when he is deep in thought; then he 
grinned, and, “Here’s the text for the house,” he said: “‘Wisdom hath builded her 
house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars Proverbs 9: 1.” 

That’s the way with the atoll preachers: they find texts for everything. The text 
seems to give a sense of completeness. Any sin is venial if the sinner can find a 
text to excuse it (an easy task); a righteous act is insignificant until it has been 
pointed up with a Biblical verse. This evening Sea Foam was not to be outdone 
by a mere vicar. He hipped and hawed for a little space, cleared his throat very 
audibly, blinked a dozen times in rapid succession, and intoned 

“This is the foundation: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ 
Genesis 1:1. And this is the interpretation: ‘The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; 
he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with 
the compass ...’ Isaiah 44: 13.” 

Araipu seemed peeved that the parson had outquoted him, but just then a file of 
slave girls appeared with platters of roast pig; fish grilled, boiled, baked, and 
raw; grated drinking nut with uto; and scores of lobsters, crabs, and shellfish. 

We feasted as in the days of Trimalchio and Fortunata, We washed down great 
hunks of fat pork with great goblets of Extra Special Housewarming Brew. Sea 
Foam let out his belt; Araipu chewed with his mouth open; William belched and 
gmnted over his guttling. The parson mentioned Joseph feasting his brethren in 
Egypt; and from William there was an account of a carousal on the Barbary 
Coast; and from Araipu there was a long narration of the feast of Belshazzar 
(Daniel 5) right to the mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, which last words were 
whiffled on us in a shower of fishbones and other refuse from the vicar’s mighty 
feasting. 

It was dusk when we were gorged to repletion, but a dozen tiny lanterns, hanging 
from tie beams and rafters, converted the house into a gnome’s grotto lit up for a 
wedding; aye, for it was then that I arose to announce the big event of the party. 

“Now, Sea Foam, Araipu, William,” I said, catching hold of Desire and putting 
my arm around her, “we are not here solely to feast. Far from it. There is to be a 
marriage ceremony tonight. All the best authorities—the sky pilots and the 
officials and such people—tell us that it is sinful to live with a woman unless the 
bonds of marriage have been tied. So Desire and I are going to be married. 



Marry us, Sea Foam!” 


“Marry?” the parson queried, his mouth open and his eyebrows raised in a 
perplexed expression. “The Big Book, Ropati—you haven’t signed your name in 
the Big Book. You haven’t paid your seven and sixpence for the license, and I 
haven’t published the banns in church!” 

“Sea Foam,” I cried, in half a rage, “you can take all your Big Books and 
licenses and banns to the devil. Desire and I are going to be married tonight.... 
William, marry us!” 

“Sure t’ing!” William cried, as though he had been waiting for the order. Then 
suddenly he became very serious for such an old sinner. He rose, assumed a 
huffy attitude, threw back his shoulders, cleared his throat with a startling 
detonation, and, glaring under his beetling brows, he asked me: 

“Do you want this here woman?” 

“Yes,” I said resolutely. 

William scowled, cleared his throat again, and, “Well, that’s finish!” he stated. 
Then he jerked his head toward poor little scared Desire. He eyed her in a 
diagnostic way and asked: “Do you want this here man?” 

“Yes,” she gasped in the feeblest of voices. 

“You’re lucky!” William declared, then went on: “Do you take this here man for 
your wedded husband?” 

“Yes.” 

“Will you cook his food, wash his clothes, take care of him when he’s sick?” 

“You won’t throw things at him when he’s drunk, or go running after native 
bucks, or steal his tobaccer for your bloody relatives?” 

“No.” 

“Hm! That’s what you say! Well, you’re married, I reckon!” 



William turned to Sea Foam and Araipu. “How ‘bout it?” he asked in a bellicose 
tone brooking no protest. “They’re married, ain’t they?” And then, with a great 
guffaw, as though suddenly relieved of the need to be serious: “Sure t’ing they’re 
married—spliced as good as any landlubber of a sky pilot could splice them! ... 
Here you, Ropati, damn you, open another bottle of beer!” 

The slave girls brought a fresh supply of brew, and we settled down to talk of the 
things that South Sea hard-doers talk about: women, the price of copra, 
pilgarlics, distant ports of call, and incredible adventures. The waning moon had 
risen above the windward point when finally I got my guests precariously 
treading the causeway homeward. 

The wedding guests have gone; I am alone with my little family, lying on the 
east triclinium couch. The waning moon shines on me through the open window, 
and I am drunk with a headier wine than that of the wedding party. 

Am I mad tonight? Is it the moon shining on me or is it the wine of love? I fancy 
myself floating peacefully, without resistance, on the stream of events; and 
perhaps I fancy this because Desire and I went to the outer beach to sleep last 
night. In the little hut under the tournefortia bush I had used no resistance: I had 
not warned my self that I should not go too far. No; I let myself drift as 
improvidently as a toy boat on Niagara River; and I toppled over the falls in the 
arms of Desire; and I stared into her eyes and fancied I was gazing at a pagan 
girl of ancient PukaPuka! Strange, how these atoll girls give me the impression 
of women of long ago! 

Last night was a recapture of the night when Desire had lain half naked by a 
magnolia bush on Teaurna Point and I had stared at her, amazed that such a 
beautiful creature should exist, feeling a sense of guilt that I should possess her 
—a sense of guilt for which I can thank my sanctimonious father, who impressed 
in my mind that all pleasure is evil .... What am I writing about, anyway? 

I am degenerating. Like the universe, I am running down. Thank God I have 
company—that is, Desire and the universe. No longer do I stand braced in the 
Stream of Duration, my loins causing the eddies that Bergson likens to 
evolution. Nay; Miss Memory and I drift with time into the space of which we 
know nought and care less. How silly for man to struggle in a different direction 
from the natural course of events. Man is, in the last analysis, the slave of his 
environment. He only chafes his ankles by fighting his fetters. And oh, when a 



man is able to put aside his childish ambition, and go to a South Sea atoll, and 
eat coconuts, and love Desire, then it is so satisfying to simply drift, splitting his 
infinitives, down, down, down into the Happy Valley of the Forgotten One. 

The moon has risen above the eaves: the moon madness soon will leave me. 
Three stars hang like tiny lanterns an inch or two below the line of thatching; 
and, by looking southward through the big open window, I can see the Centauri 
glinting above the trembling lagoon. 

Someone is laughing. Albeit I can see no one passing along the causeway— for 
there is a background of dense shadow—I can see movement. I know not how 
else to express it. Though it is close to midnight the himene singers are yelling 
lustily, but they are scarcely audible on Yato Point. The reef combers, breaking 
over the cavern entrance to the Pagan Underworld, sound like a freight train 
rumbling through a tunnel. I can smell the scented coconut oil on the body of 
Miss Memory. 

Little Tili lies on the triclinium couch beside me. She is fast asleep, and so is 
Vaevae, who has occupied my sleeping cubicle, and Pati, who is piping off the 
watches close by on the lagoon beach. Desire is flung out on the sleeping mat in 
the center of the room. Above her half-clothed body hovers the soul of a pagan 
girl; the eyes of her man feast on her from the triclinium couch. All’s well with 
the world of Danger Island. 



Chapter VII 


Araipu’s flat-bottomed boat is eighteen feet long, five wide, and has three 
ironshod keels, which enables it to sail into the wind after a fashion. I have 
rigged it with a sliding-gunter sail. Yesterday evening I bundled the household 
gear, the woman, Pati, Tili, and Maloku’s two-year-old daughter Rachel into the 
boat, locked the trading station, and set sail for Frigate Bird Islet with a fresh 
beam wind. We were bound for the new house Leeward Village has built for us 
on Puipui Point, there to await Desire’s parturition. 

The sun set about the time we were abeam Utupoa Point, but there was a full 
moon which would light us across the lagoon, and we had Pati in the bows to 
con us through the reefs, crying, “Upwind, the coral head!” or “Down-wind, the 
long reef!” as cheerfully as any homeward-bound sailor. When we were out of 
the bay the wind shifted slowly ahead, but this did not trouble us, for by now the 
moon was a big yellow lantern hanging from our masthead, lighting the lagoon 
as we plunk-plunked on the port tack and plunk-plunked on the starboard tack. 

Desire sat on the floor battens, round as a pumpkin, the very symbol of 
justification for existence in spirit and body, as contented as a fat old Chinese 
mandarin after a banquet. To me there is something fine about pregnancy. 
Desire’s swollen body does not shock my aesthetic sense. I love to lay my hand 
on her, feel the child stirring, and muse on the strangeness of life. And the rest of 
her body, with the face chubby and the angles rounded off, is lovelier than that of 
a slim girl. My sense of beauty may be colored by sensuousness (not by 
sensuality), but nevertheless there is at least something homely, and human, and 
satisfying about a pregnant woman. 

Pati kept a bright lookout forward, but Rachel went to sleep with her head on 
Tili’s lap, while the latter tried to keep awake, for I had told her to guard her 
little niece against the moon-cows that swoon about on a night like this; but 
presently the rhythmic slatting of the ripples, the plunk-plunk of the boat, the 
sonorous voice of Ropati-tane singing “Clementine” was too much for her. She 
slept jackknifed across Rachel until Desire straightened them out so they would 
not smother each other. Then Desire too (bless her!) nodded and slept, while 
betimes Papa Ropati, the steering oar held firmly in his hand, his head thrown 
back in a noble way that only the moon and stars could see and appreciate, 



shifted from “Clementine” to “Wake Nicodemus” and then to “Lizzie Gurney.” 


At Puipui Point I drove the boat’s stem into the sand; then Pati and I carried the 
gear into our new house, laid out sleeping mats, pillows, and quilts, and finally 
carried the three sleeping nuisances to the house and put them to bed. Only 
Desire knew, with the dulled perception of a pregnant woman, that she had 
arrived. She nibbled my shoulder as I carried her, and she sighed in a manner 
rich with sensuous contentment. 

Before sailing I had left word with William to keep a sharp lookout every night, 
and if he saw three torches flaring on Puipui Point to come quickly to my aid, for 
it would mean that Desire’s labor had started. As for women— midwives and the 
like—I would not have the creatures about. In fact we came to Frigate Bird to 
escape unclean and meddlesome old women with their superstitions and their 
native nostrums, and stupid men who insist on a long prayer as soon as the child 
has dropped. I have seen newly born babies lying on the birth mat, without any 
attention whatsoever being shown them, while the damn-fool fathers prayed 
fully five minutes. It is remarkable that there is so little mortality at birth. 

My infant will come into the world with the most expert obstetrical aid on 
Danger Island. Her back will be slapped; silver vitellin will be dropped in her 
eyes; the umbilical cord will be neatly cut and ligated; the nuisance will be 
bathed in smell soap; the belly will be bandaged, and the backsides will be 
spanked to show her from the very first what she must expect from this weary 
world of care; and finally Papa Ropati will drink a bottle of Special 
Obstetrician’s Brew and crow like any successful rooster. 

Desire has been frightened by no warnings of the dangers of parturition. There 
have been no kind, sympathetic friends to work her into a state bordering on 
hysteria—so that when she has her baby she will be capable of feeling only fear 
and pain. She seems to be in a spiritual state that uplifts her above such things as 
pain and makes her ignore danger with a fine gesture of contempt. She wants to 
be left alone; she senses, I believe, that a companion will somehow diminish the 
feeling of spiritual exaltation. Perhaps it is much the same as my wish to be left 
alone when I am reading The Eve of St. Agnes or when I am lying on some 
lonely tropic beach, staring across the barrier reef and the sea. I feel something 
that I cannot express to another person, that I do not wish to express, that I wish 
to enjoy alone. 



Each afternoon for the past week Desire and I have spent a few hours in the 
lagoon with Rachel, Tili, Pati, and the yet-unborn daughter that is kicking lustily 
in her mother’s womb. Like all atoll mothers, Desire believes the cool water will 
make her child strong and clean-skinned. 

At Puipui Point the lagoon shelves off steeply to three or four fathoms; and from 
there on, all the way to the main islet, it is studded with coral mushrooms and 
crisscrossed with reefs. You can swim for miles, from coral head to coral head, 
and never be more than a hundred yards from some sort of pinnacle or reef on 
which to rest. And you will have no trouble in finding your way stations, for the 
water is crystal clear. On an atoll, where there is no river mud, you can see 
bottom at ten fathoms. What a contrast to San Francisco Bay, where you cannot 
see bottom at ten inches! 

Because Rachel is just learning to swim I carried her. We waded through the 
shoal water and swam to the first coral mushroom. Rachel was no problem, for 
she has learned to let her body go limp in the water, do some kicking, and make 
divers whooping noises instead of climbing on my head. Presently she was 
placed on the mushroom, in about a foot of water, while Desire, Tili, Pati, and 
the unborn daughter perched beside her, comprising the audience. 

For a little while we did some deep diving to bring up handfuls of sand, thus 
proving we had been to the bottom; and when slyly I filled Rachel’s hands with 
sand she ducked her head under water, then, sputtering, bright-eyed, she showed 
us the sand and shrieked that she had been countless fathoms down. She believed 
it, too, for that night she gave a fisherman a long yarn about it and called on 
Desire as a witness. 

Presently I had forgotten the audience. I swam from coral to coral; I dove into 
dark and tortuous submarine canyons and poked my head into caves mysterious 
and black as the days before Genesis; I porpoised under beetling cliffs and 
wormed my way through crevices and fangtoothed holes, far below the surface. I 
fancied myself a fish, an eel, a turtle, and to substantiate the illusion I slithered 
through the water in fish, eel, and turtle manner. I fancied myself a glaucus, and 
straightway rolled myself into a ball to find out what it was like. I fancied myself 
a lobster, and tried swimming backward, but only to fill my nose with water. 
Then, going through a billion years of evolution in a second, I fancied myself a 
bewhiskered oceanographer observing the coral polyp. 



In some places there were flat stretches of brick-red coral such as you find on the 
reef; in other places the coral was gray and probably dead; and in still other 
places there were great forests of antler coral, pale yellow and delicate, stippled 
by the varicolored mantles of tridacna clams. But the most beautiful were the 
lichenlike growths clinging to the coral heads. Their colors were fantastically 
brilliant and their forms as many as their number. Some growths were corrugated 
with scabrous brown ridges, while in the interstices was a paris-green substance 
soft as putty—as I discovered by pricking it with a safety pin used otherwise as a 
pants button. When I laid my hand on one of these corals it felt rough as a wood 
rasp, but when I took my hand away and clenched it I found it covered with 
invisible slime. 

Here and there were black-spined sea urchins, shellfish that lived in nacre-lined 
holes, conch shells, spider shells, cowrie shells half hidden under the coral 
ledges. There were great beds of tridacna clams, some buried so deep in the 
solid-growing coral that they could scarcely open their valves. There were 
mother-of-pearl shells and pipi shells, and a great formless shell that darted into 
its hole with marvelous agility for such an apparently sedentary creature. There 
were marine hermit crabs, starfish, sea centipedes; and there was a freakish snail 
that poked out a sort of fluke and hopped an inch or two off the bottom. There 
were brown, black, and white trepang, the former often as big as a loaf of bread. 
When I lifted one to a coral head it spewed out long white filaments like 
spaghetti—the stickiest substance in the sea. Now and again I would see the 
head of a moray eel half obscured by the gloom of its cave; often I came upon 
octopods squatting on the coral lumps. 

Yet people claim the atoll scenery monotonous, the animal, vegetable, and 
mineral worlds meager! Nowhere else have I seen such amazing sights as an 
atoll lagoon affords in infinite variety. 

After returning to the audience I put on my final act by diving to a forest of 
antler coral where thousands of tiny South Sea demoiselles hovered in azure- 
tinted clouds. Minnows ranging from the size of a shirt button to that of a 
shilling, some were shaped like parrot fish, light blue and almost transparent; 
others were similar to butterfly fish, with three black bands around their bodies; 
and still others were young triggerfish, or, as it seemed to me, miniature Cubist 
paintings. 


When close to a school of them I waved my arms about, as William the Heathen 



does when telling lies. The demoiselles flipped into a bush of antler coral, which 
I broke off and took to Rachel. When I shook it over her cupped hands literally 
scores of minnows fell out, and also a number of tiny crabs and things that 
looked like lobsters. Rachel thanked me with excited, screams; when I carried 
her to Puipui beach she had dozens of fish, crabs, and lobsters in each fat hand. 
Some of these she fed to the tame booby perched on a coconut stump by the 
cookhouse; others Desire found this morning under her pillow and on her 
sleeping mat. 

Desire has given our daughter a typical native name. I mention this with 
diffidence. What excuse am I to offer for Ngatokoruaimatauea? You are certain 
to exclaim: “Ropati! Think of a frail wisp of a girl dragging a name like that 
through life! Think of her sweetheart whispering: ‘I love you, 
Ngatokoruaimatauea!’ Think of her angry mother screaming: 'Wipe your nose 
this instant, Ngatokoruaimatauea!”’ But for such situations there is another 
name, Florence, and yet another one, Johnny. I believe the daughter will be 
called Johnny, for I shall refuse even so much as to whisper 
Ngatokoruaimatauea*, while Desire, try as she does, cannot come closer to 
Florence than Paloreniti. Doesn’t sound much like Florence, does it? But if you 
tried to pronounce Ngatokoruaimatauea you might fail quite as badly. 

[* Actually the fourth child was named Ngatokoruaimatauea—Nga for short and 
the other three were called respectively Johnny (as above), Jakey, and Elaine.] 

Desire’s labor started on the twenty-ninth of last month, so we expected Johnny 
to arrive on the thirtieth. Neither of us was worried. The old lady did a little 
walking about to speed things up; the old man caught a fish and cooked a meal; 
the children stared at Desire with genuine annoyance, then dashed off to do some 
fancy swimming in the lagoon. 

At dusk I put the teakettle on the fireplace and arranged kindling under it so I 
could heat water in a hurry. Then I made three frond torches, lit them, stuck them 
in the sand where they would be seen from the main islet, drank a bottle of 
home-brew, and asked Desire how she was getting along. She replied that the 
pains were light, and perhaps they were the “false pains” that sometimes precede 
the real ones by a few days. She asked me to go to my little workhouse on the 
beach and sleep so I would be rested if she needed me during the night. This 
seemed good advice, so I drank another bottle of brew, went to the hut, and fell 
asleep. 



Either Desire was being very brave or her parturition was uniquely painless. I 
slept for about two hours, then was wakened by a scream. I jumped up, knocked 
my head on the low rafters, tumbled out of the house, and rushed to the big 
sleeping house. The lantern was burning, of course, so I could see Desire’s 
gentle eyes staring at me, weary with pain. “It is a daughter,” she said. Then I 
glanced down and saw that, sure enough, a daughter had arrived. 

I asked her why she had not wakened me, and she replied that there had been no 
need, and anyway she had wished to be alone. 

“Ropati! Ropati! What is it?” came just then from Tili, lying with Pati near by. 

“A baby girl,” I said. 

“Oh,” she muttered, disappointed that nothing really spectacular had happened, 
and went back to sleep. I attended the baby and the mother. 

“Well,” I thought, like a South Sea trader acting true to type, “I think a brew is 
indicated. Damme, yes! ... Ropati, congratulations! You’ve got a daughter! ... 
You’re quite a man, Ropati; upon my word you are! ... Have another glass? ... 
Don’t mind if I do!” 

It was only a few moments later that William had something to say about it too. 
“Bloody hell!” the profane heathen bellowed when he was still far down the 
path, his torchlight throwing fantastic shadows through the atoll jungle. “Hell 
and damn! Whas a matta? Come too soon? How many you catch— two, three, 
half dozens? Oh, Goddamn! You all the same me, too much savvy all the time, 
oh yes!” 

Soon he entered the clearing, threw his torch in the rubbish pile, and approached 
the house. He gave the sleeping mother and child a glance of feigned contempt; 
then, seeing the half-empty brew bottle, “Well,” he opined, “maybe-so I come 
just in time,” and hurried to upend the bottle at his wrinkled lips. 

Of course we made a night of it. The lonely groves and jungle echoed and re¬ 
echoed with songs, laughter, curses, and gurgling sounds; the sea birds fled from 
their roosts in the coconut trees; and when dawn broke over Puipui Point, 
William had worked himself into such a state of enthusiasm that he took as much 
pride in the child as though he had made it himself. He crawled into the house on 
hands and knees, his bony limbs grotesque in the mingled lantern light and the 



dawn, and for a long time he stared at the child with leering eyes. 


For the past two weeks Desire has been seriously ill—pneumonia, perhaps. A 
week after the daughter’s arrival, feeling perfectly strong, she went swimming in 
the lagoon, and she fell sick a day or so later. At first I was afraid she might not 
pull through, but now she is convalescing slowly. Little Johnny is being fed on 
drinking-nut meat and coconut water. It agrees with her, and it is the usual diet 
when an atoll mother is unable to nurse her child. 

Except for Desire’s illness we are a happy family. William is still with us, and 
Pati, Tili, and Rachel spend a good deal of their time on the point. Mama Tala 
was here for a few days, but she had to hurry back to the main islet to take care 
of her other sick daughter, Tangi. Poor child! she is in the last stages of 
tuberculosis. Before coming to Frigate Bird I was at her house, but I could 
scarcely bear to look at her, with her big, eloquent eyes moving in an emaciated 
face that seemed already dead. Pio—happy savage— seemed oblivious of 
tragedy in his house. 

Now that Desire is better, with only a dry cough troubling her, I spend much of 
my time in the lagoon and sea. I am involuting back to an amphibian, brown as a 
native, and disgustingly healthy. Often I wish that Desire could absorb some of 
my health—as Queen Elizabeth believed she could do by sleeping with a virgin. 
However, yesterday, with tobacco and matches in a waterproof container, a tin 
for marine specimens, and a sheath knife, I swam leisurely the half mile of 
lagoon to the west reef. 

The water was warm above and cool below, so, paddling slowly, I now and then 
jackknifed down for a spell in the colder climate. At other times I lay on my 
back and swam, as Rachel says, “Pei te poti palala,” which means, “Like a flat- 
bottomed boat,” my arms being the oars. At other times, fancying myself an 
Olympian champion, I practiced the Australian crawl, the trudgeon, and graceful 
side stroke, the effortless backstroke. Again, I metamorphosed into a green 
turtle, swam submerged, with half-empty lungs, and came up to breathe with a 
raucous intake of air. I have often wished myself a turtle. For calm philosophical 
detachment, for longevity, for, as Horatio Augustus would put it, “social life” a 
turtle takes all prizes. 

After a dive in the Hot Mineral Baths I moved seaward. The reef was unusually 
calm, with only an occasional surge, laced with foam, washing up the barrier. 



Standing by a deep crevice, I raised my hands above my head, palms together in 
the best textbook manner and was on the point of plunging in when abruptly I 
drew back, genuinely scared. 

Eight or ten feet below the surface was an immense brute as big as a porpoise! 
He lay perfectly still, waiting, no doubt, for me to dive. We stared at each other 
for some moments; then the fish, deciding that I had changed my mind about 
diving, finned slowly to the edge of the crevice and gave me a mean, impatient 
glance. 

The surge made ripples on the water so I could not see him clearly, but his size 
alone was enough to terrify me. I sensed that the brute would have no 
compunctions about eating me, Ropati-tane; it seemed reprehensible in a fish to 
contemplate eating the father of that remarkable daughter, etc.; but now, as I 
write this, it occurs to me that I should have felt no compunctions about killing 
and eating the fish, so I cannot complain. 

I scrambled to the top of the reef, pried off a tridacna clam, gouged out the meat, 
and threw it to the fish. I should like to state that he ate it and gave me a grateful 
flip of the tail; but he ignored it, while a school of black triggerfish appeared 
from nowhere to gobble the meat. 

Then presently the big fish dissolved in the water in the mysterious way of fish. 
They do not seem to swim away or sound: they just dissolve. Feeling not so 
brave as before, I walked slowly toward the Point of Hernandia Trees, picked up 
a shrimplike creature with claws on two of the middle legs instead of the front 
ones (silly shrimp!), put it in my specimen tin, and returned to Puipui Point. 

The Leeward villagers are now on Frigate Bird Islet, so in the evening I went to 
the village to tell the neighbors of the big fish; but they dismissed my story with 
guffaws and told me it was ancient history. 

“Even Letter knows about that fish,” Tapipi said, and to prove it he called the 
deaf-mute. Our speechless gossip then gave me a long account in pantomime, 
interspersed by wa-wa sounds of how he had been fishing on the reef and how 
his tremendous brute had taken his minnow hook. According to Letter, he had 
played the fish long and skillfully. His pole had been jerked downward, heaved 
up; the line had zimmed through the water; the fish had leaped like a tarpon, 
plunged, and finally escaped—as Letter signified by spreading out his hands, 



palms upward, in the Hebrew gesture of negation. But Letter affirmed that he 
intended to catch the fish, club it, jugulate it, rip open its belly, crunch its skull 
between his teeth. In fact he became so ferocious in describing the numerous 
deaths he would inflict upon the poor fish that I made up my mind to catch it 
myself and kill it mercifully. 

While Letter was working himself into a frenzy Constable Ears came in from 
albacore fishing. In his canoe were seven hundred flying fish that he had picked 
up in the shallows. They were spawning, fat, and sluggish. Ears reckoned the big 
fish had chased them onto the reef, but they may simply have been washed up 
during low tide, for all creatures become silly during parturition. However, the 
fish were divided among all the villagers, and I salted down my share to be used 
as bait on the morrow. 

Now it is nearly noon. I shall eat; then William and I are going to the reef to 
catch that big fish. William is convinced that it is a patuki-wala, which in 
English is a serranus something like a jewfish. 

Yesterday afternoon, at low tide, William and I waded through the shallows to 
the reef, with singleprong fish spears across our shoulders, heavy fishlines, shark 
hooks, and flying-fish bait in our pockets. The combers were higher than they 
had been the day before, but we managed to dive through them near the crevice I 
have mentioned. For a little while we peered this way and that, swimming 
cautiously outward, but we did not see the fish; then we forgot him in the more 
interesting sport of spearing surgeonfish and exploring the reef shelf. That’s the 
way with a fisherman: he sallies forth to harpoon whales and ends by snaring 
minnows. 

I have told how crystal clear the lagoon water is, how vivid the coral colors. 

Well, they are not comparable to what is found beyond the reef. In this last place 
Nature seems to make her final grand splurge of color and outlandish design. If 
you paddle in a canoe close to the reef you see only dull yellow coral and an 
occasional uninteresting fish—a blue shadow in the lighter blue water—but if 
you dive down with water goggles on you become utterly flabbergasted. No 
other word in my vocabulary describes the state of both spiritual and intellectual 
amazement. There are literally thousands of fish, everywhere, and scarcely two 
alike. I recall one little fellow so violently crimson that he shocked my eyes; and 
a school of spoonbilled violet-colored fish; and butterfly fish with trailing dorsal 
fins twice the length of their bodies, as soft and delicate as silk, as gorgeously 



tinted as the butterflies from which they receive their name. 


Even under water I could hear the clink of William’s spear against the coral as he 
missed one fish after another. When finally he speared a red-spotted surgeonfish 
he waved it over his head, sputtering and round-eyed, proud as a child. 

As for me, I dove about the deep black crevices and the submarine caverns, full 
of holy wonder, wishing I could grow gills, disappear forever from the hazardous 
world of dictators and health foods, inhabit the mysterious sea, the solemn sea 
... Why do I say solemn? Perhaps it is because the purple half-light, the mystery 
of this unusual world, fills me with solemnity, so I transfer my subjective feeling 
to the objective sea. 

Presently I saw two blue spines sticking out of a hole and guessed them to be the 
antennae of a lobster. I called William, and together we dove down to 
investigate. First I thrust my hand in the hole, but only to draw it back quickly 
when the lobster flapped his tail. . “Newa mind. No get scared,” William said 
when we had come to the surface. “You all-the-same reach in and grab him this- 
a-way,” and thereupon William made a grabbing motion. 

“You do it,” I countered. “You savvy better than I.” 

But William reckoned his hand was larger than mine; and anyway, just then a 
fine school of parrot fish came by, which gave him an excuse to wallow away, 
goggle eyes in the water, spear poking this way and that. 

I made another attempt to get the lobster, but unluckily I grabbed a knob of white 
coral to hold myself under, and instantly discovered it poisonous. Once in a 
while I run into this strange coral. Though it may not scratch, it stings quite 
painfully and leaves a burning feeling for some time, with a red rash. 

However, I had little more than time to realize that I had been poisoned, for 
suddenly, without warning, I found myself looking straight into the ruthless, 
bloodthirsty, coldly evil eyes of the man-eating patuki-wala, not more than 
fifteen feet away! 

I was facing outward from the reef, in two fathoms of water. Before me was a 
great yellow dome of coral, and beyond it hazy blue water fathomless deep. The 
patuki-wala had risen over this coral dome, looked me straight in the eye, and 
gnashed his teeth! Mephistopheles rising from Hell could have surprised and 



terrified me no more. He was a black, hideous, ferocious devil from a barbarous 
past. He did not belong to this secure world of dictators’ and health foods. His 
jaws spread across his head and down the sides of his body halfway to his tail in 
a grin inhuman and horrible. I have said that with water goggles on one gets an 
illusion of gigantic size and vast distance. Well, this patuki-wala looked to me 
like a large battleship poised over a cathedral. 

Pain from bursting lungs finally brought me to my senses. Weak, panic-stricken, 
sensing that my legs might be crunched at any moment in those awful jaws, I 
shot to the surface and yelled: 

“William! Come quick! The fish!” 

The brute made me feel so tiny and helpless that I wanted to cry. 

The heathen, thirty yards away, stared at me with the same inhuman detachment 
as had the fish. “Whas a matta, all the time get scared?” he guffawed. “First see 
lobster—get scared. Then see little fish—get scared. Oh, you too much get 
scared all the time, oh yes, Goddamn!” 

“The patuki-wala!” I screamed, then ducked my head under water, sensing that 
the brute was about to swallow me. But he was in the same place, gnashing his 
teeth, a vile glint in his eyes. He was thinking: “Shall I swallow him now or wait 
till I have scared him to death?” It’s odd how a man, in a state of terror, can read 
even the mind of a fish. 

Swimming backward so as not to lose sight of the brute, I reached William. He 
made light of the matter, but yet I detected, with a lot of satisfaction, that there 
was a tremor in his voice when he affirmed: “Patuki-wala no eat you. All the 
same lobster, he no eat you all the time.” 

“You get between us,” I suggested. “You’ve got a long, heavy spear and mine’s a 
short, light one. I mustn’t take any chances, William. I got a sick wife ashore and 
a helpless little baby to consider. Just think if Johnny’s papa never came home 
from sea!” 

William laughed a little at that and made some asinine remark about the 
helplessness of Mama; but presently, our courage returning, we swam toward the 
brute, side by side, circled round, and even swam down to poke our spears to 
within a fathom of him. Lord knows what would have happened had we actually 



speared him. The fish might have eaten us both in retaliation. Old Mr. Scratch 
once hooked a patuki-wala and was towed several miles to sea before his line 
parted. That shows how strong they are. Up to yesterday no Danger Islander had 
ever killed a full-grown patuki-wala. 

We did! 

It was done this way: We baited the shark hook with a whole flying fish split 
open lengthways, boned, and turned inside out. This, with half the fishline, I 
took to a point directly above the patuki-wala, while William took the other end 
of the line to the reef. I chummed; then I lowered the bait to the fish’s nose and 
lay face downward, watching. 

Save for the slow, rhythmic motion of his gill casings, the patuki-wala was as 
fixed as the yellow coral beneath him. He seemed rigid, and yet I knew he was 
eying the bait in a dubious way, was smelling or tasting it. I don’t know how 
long I stared at the fish and the fish stared at the bait. Certainly I raised my head 
dozens of times to breathe. Perhaps ten minutes had passed when suddenly the 
bait was gone! It was like a conjuring trick. The fish had not moved. The bait 
had been dangling about eighteen inches from his nose; then instantly it was 
gone—sucked into his mouth, I suppose —while my fishline, still slack, led 
between his jaws. It took half a minute to realize what had happened; then, 
yelling bloody murder, I yanked upward, and then, holding the line for dear life 
so as to act as a buoy and thus keep the fish from swimming into a hole, I felt 
myself jerked violently downward. 

William, on the reef, was pulling in for all he was worth, and undoubtedly 
making himself heard from the main islet to Ko. Even I for a little while, until I 
was too deep in the water, could hear him blaspheming. The patuki-wala was 
swimming to sea for all he was worth, tending to straighten the line, pull me to 
the bottom, and drown me. But I held on, and soon found myself moving slowly 
toward the breakers. It flashed through my mind that at any moment the brute, in 
a fit of unchristian vindictiveness, might charge forward to bite me. I glanced 
back, saw he was now over clear coral, then swam to the surface. 

For a moment I was so busy regaining my breath that I scarcely saw William 
doing a sort of ballet dance on the reef, his eyes like toy balloons; but I have a 
clear recollection of his face horribly distorted, and of how one leg was flung 
high above his head and was waving back and forth as though to secure his 



balance, while betimes he heaved on the line as though he were trying to pull a 
battleship from the bottom of the sea. But William succeeded. He got the fish on 
the reef and pulled it to a dry patch of coral. When I had reached him he was 
squatting in a little pool, holding his head tightly in his hands, cursing rapidly 
and incoherently like a man demented. The look of the patuki-wala was enough 
to dement any man. His size alone—two hundred and forty-six pounds of 
Araipu’s scale beam was enough to precipitate the soberest fisherman into a state 
of frenzy. 

I have said that it was the first full-grown patuki-wala ever caught at Danger 
Island. To commemorate the occasion (or ourselves) we divided the creature 
among all the villagers. The day before, Constable Ears had been vilely 
conceited because the people were eating his flying fish; now Ears has “salt 
water in his eyes” because the people are eating our strange and terrible denizen 
of the deep. 

For the past twenty hours William has been shrieking like the famed 
mountaineers. Desire and I can hear him now, far away in the copra makers’ 
village, telling the world of PukaPuka the details of his heroic deed. As for me, I 
am satisfied with relating modestly that William was deathly afraid of the fish 
and that he made me do the actual fishing while he stayed on the reef. 

“At any moment,” I add, “the brute might have chosen me instead of the bait — 
but what cared I?” And here I snap my fingers. “Danger is my meat!” 

Only the deaf-mute is disgruntled. Letter considers that it was ungentlemanly of 
us to catch his fish. 



Chapter VIII 


When a man gets in the fishing mood it’s no use discussing any other subject 
with him or trying to set right his sense of values. He wants to catch a fish— 
preferably a big fish—and that’s all there is to it, and that’s all there is worth 
living for. Our savants tell us he is trying to give vent to his aggressive impulse 
in a harmless way; but what does the fisherman care for all the savants from 
Sarawak to Samarkand? Whoever heard of a savant catching a fish? What do 
they know about it, anyway? 

Desire knows more about the psychology of a fisherman than all the savants 
lumped together, and that’s because she is the wife of a fisherman who once 
caught a patuki-wala weighing two hundred and forty-six pounds! Even my 
daughter Johnny knows enough to look at me with sighing pity—and keep her 
mouth shut—when I am going fishing. 

The other day Desire and a group of her sisters and cousins sat by the doorway 
of the Yato house, grinning and making sarcastic remarks while busily I 
fashioned lures for a big fishing expedition to The Rock. First I bought a duck 
from the lady next door, pulled out a handful of its tail feathers, and let it go; 
then I cut one of the lead weights from my casting net, punched a bigger hole in 
it, passed a hook-and-wire leader through the hole, seized on the duck feathers, 
and had a fairly good jig. Still I was not satisfied. I wanted a spoon hook. I tried 
to hammer one out of a Chili dollar and was on the point of hammering one out 
of a ten-dollar gold piece when suddenly my eyes lighted on our big gun-metal 
soupspoon. I pounced on it and in two seconds had chopped off its handle with 
an ax. 

I scarcely heard Pati scream: “Look at him, Desire! It’s the only spoon you 
have!” And my wife’s curt reply: “I’ve been living with the man four years. He 
never changes. It’s no use talking to him.” And then Tili’s indecent remark: 

“And look at the poor little duck, Desire. He can’t sit down any more!” 

Nothing deters or humiliates a born fisherman. I drilled a pair of holes in the 
spoon, wired on a No. 10/0 hook, seized a length of piano wire to it, and hung it 
and the duck-feather jig to a tie beam. Then I got out my fishlines and wound 
them in neat balls, with the working ends hanging from their centers; and finally 



I made a huge gaff, which I hung too from the tie beam. By then it was evening; 
early in the morning we would sail. 

The Rock, four miles seaward from Frigate Bird Islet, is a circular coral reef a 
half mile across, with a small sand cay in its center. It is surrounded by fringing 
reef where the seas beat heavily on all sides, and it is joined to Frigate Bird Islet 
by a dangerous sunken reef—Te Arai. To north and south of this reef, depending 
on the way the current is flowing, a tide rip whitens several square miles of sea. 
“Rip” may suggest “ripple” to you, but you must picture this patch of sea as 
broken by gigantic combers. A few years ago a trading schooner blundered into 
the rip and was nearly capsized; the captain believed his vessel over shoal water 
until his lead line told him differently. Probably Te Arai and the tide rip 
suggested the name “Danger Island” to Commodore Byron when he 
“discovered” the place in the 1760s. 

Danger Islanders who at rare intervals go fishing close to The Rock return home 
heroes, but once in a while they fail to return. I have made three trips to this 
perilous place. Each time I have sworn it would be the last; but, as Desire will 
tell you, no peril daunts a fisherman when the fever is in his blood. 

We sailed at dawn in Araipu’s flat-bottomed boat, with the vicar at the steering 
oar, First-Born and myself on the after thwart, William and Poaza forward. 

First-Born, the son of Sea Foam, lives next door to the trading station, as I may 
have mentioned before. About thirty-five, he is tall, well-built, and handsome 
save for a badly scarred face where he was bitten by a shark. He has a broader 
outlook on life than have his neighbors, and he is aware of this: he does not 
hesitate to tell us that, Ropati perhaps excepted, he is the smartest man on the 
island. He addresses one tersely and definitively; he never admits himself in 
error, and if he is proven wrong he blames it on his wife. She, patient woman, is 
too fond of her husband to complain. Does he not feed her and her many 
children? Does he not keep her in a continual state of pregnancy? What more can 
she ask? 

Poaza, son of Bones, is a small, wiry man with sharp interrogative eyes, a leering 
smile, and a tremendous opinion of himself as an expert fisherman, which in fact 
he is. Sometimes I wonder if Poaza is entirely human. I fancy him half 
amphibian—a sort of simian-amphibian. Climbing coconut trees or scuttling 
bowlegged along the road, he seems more monkey than man; but when fishing 



he seems more like a wise old penguin. If he is human, it is manifested in his 
masculine protest. He is vainer than First-Born! He is so sure of himself that, if 
called the nasty names you can think of or poked fun at till you are black in the 
face, he will only leer at you and shrug his shoulders as though pitying you for 
having so imperfect an insight into his sterling qualities. One can no more 
believe him the brother of Strange-Eyes than one can believe Strange-Eyes the 
daughter of Bones. 

I have told many times of Araipu, and I seem to remember having mentioned the 
scandalous William. We can continue the expedition. 

We crossed the reef at sunrise; then, with a beam wind on our portside, we 
skirted along the reef toward Frigate Bird Islet. The air was fresh and clear; our 
spirits were high; the boat plunk-plunked over the waves; William cursed from 
force of habit; Araipu sang a hymn. Presently Poaza baited his trolling hook with 
a red mullet and dropped it over the portside. I dropped my duck-feather jig over 
the starboard side, and—it’s a fact!—within half a minute a whale of a fish took 
it. The line burned through my hands until I took a bight with it over the thwart; 
then it parted! 

“Newa mind, oh yes!” William guffawed. “You no savvy lead make him go 
down quick? Oh hell! Tomorrow I dive down, get him for you!” 

The heathen had insinuated that the hook had become fouled in the bottom. The 
more I see of the profane old man the less I like him. However, I pulled in the 
line, put on my spoon hook, warned Araipu to keep farther away from the reef, 
and started fishing in earnest. I ignored the comments of the rest of them, but I 
could not help hearing First-Born explaining that I should have payed out my 
line slower, and Araipu opining that we should have offered the customary 
prayer, and Poaza stating that no white man knows how to catch a fish. 

I have to admit that I didn’t catch any fish on the way to The Rock. It was 
Poaza’s fault: the red-mullet bait on his hook frightened the fish from my spoon. 
Poaza, however, with his usual fluke of luck, pulled in a few cavallas—but they 
were thin fish and covered with scales. 

Presently we had left the reef and were sailing seaward toward The Rock. A mile 
to our left, over the sunken Te Arai Reef, black walls of water marched toward 
us. They were awe-inspiring even at that distance and in the daylight. They 



didn’t belong out there in the open sea, with no land in the background. Spray 
rose from their crests to form a low, misty cloud that obscured the horizon; and 
occasionally, when one toppled over, a geyser of foam and spray would rise, 
seemingly slowly and deliberately, fifty feet or more to lose itself against the 
white wall of horizon clouds. 

Then we raised the breakers on The Rock’s fringing reef, and soon we could 
make out the sand cay, yellow and hazy through the spray. Araipu sailed the boat 
around the fringing reef to bring it into the wind in the lee of the sand cay; the 
sail was lowered, the mast unstepped, and the sailing gear stowed along one of 
the gunwales. Oars were shipped, and we rowed close to the reef to drop our 
anchor. Then we payed out line until we were over fifty fathoms of water, made 
fast, and sat back for a smoke, a rest, and a prayer. 

Seen from The Rock, Danger Island was scarcely recognizable. Frigate Bird and 
Ko islets were on a line and therefore visible as one islet, with the Point of 
Hernandia Trees and its cloud of birds closest to us. The main islet, seven miles 
away, seemed very distant and misty. It did not appear to be connected with 
Frigate Bird and Ko, for the lagoon and the reef were below the horizon. From 
The Rock we had the illusion of seeing two distinct islands separated by four 
miles of sea. 

To our right, as far as we could see, the tide rip churned the sea to foam. Directly 
in front of us twenty-foot combers crashed and roared on The Rock’s fringing 
reef, and through their spray, only two hundred yards off, yet visible only for 
short periods between the breakers, the sand cay lay yellow and desolate, a place 
to depress the spirits of anyone but a born fisherman. Sea birds mottled the 
yellow sand—often flocks of them soared screaming overhead—and now and 
again a bird swooped down so close that Poaza tried to kill it with an oar. 

Only a few years ago the sand cay was a luxuriant little islet, inhabited a part of 
the time. That’s the way with these atolls: they’re here today and gone tomorrow. 
One wonders how the people have endured. 

The wind freshened as soon as we were anchored off The Rock. William spoke 
of it and mentioned that it would be a hard pull back to the main islet; then 
Poaza jerked his head toward Samoa, four hundred miles away, and grinned. 
First-Born muttered that he had always wanted to take a run down to Apia; but 
Araipu, the practical vicar, told us to take off our hats while he prayed. 



The atoll people are always praying. They never start fishing without offering a 
prayer: even a man spearing fish on the reef will invoke the divine blessing 
before he impales his breakfast shark. Today Araipu seemed to find sensuous 
pleasure in addressing his Creator. First he settled comfortably in the stem 
sheets, as might a man who is preparing to enjoy a glass of beer and a chat. He 
smiled in a gratified way that seemed to express: “Now, boys, we’ll have a nice 
long delicious prayer!” He almost smacked his lips. While the boat rolled and 
pitched, the combers thundered, the sea birds screamed, Araipu raised his voice 
to the God of Abraham. He prayed and he prayed. He enjoyed himself so much 
that he seemed reluctant to stop praying; but finally, hearing William light his 
pipe and grunt impatiently, he ended with a hurried “Amen” lest the heathen 
spoil the prayer’s magic by roaring a volley of curses. As it was, William 
contented himself with a mere, “Whas a matta? All time pray? No catch fish?” 
and started baiting his hook. 

By speedy work I got my line over the side first. Like a flash a gar pike rose to 
grab my hook while it was still on the surface! With a single graceful jerk I 
swung the fish into the boat, then I let my eyes move slowly and interrogatively 
from one fisherman to the next, asking tacitly: “Well, gentlemen, what have you 
to say now?” 

William replied with a sniffle; Araipu and First-Born were too astonished (or 
humiliated) to speak. Poaza pounced on my gar pike, crushed its skull between 
his teeth, and bit out a piece of flesh from its back, which same he fixed on his 
hook and dropped over the side, almost instantly to bring up a big cavalla. He 
glanced at us with a leer, rebaited his hook, and caught another fish. That’s the 
way with Poaza. Though he uses the same tackle and bait as the rest of us use, he 
invariably catches twice as many fish. 

Soon we were fishing with a vengeance. In a few hours we had fifty good-sized 
groupers, cavallas, barracudas, schnappers, but it is a fact that, after pulling up 
my one little gar pike, I never caught another fish! First-Born said it was because 
Desire was ill; Araipu said it might have something to do with my irregular 
church attendance; William affirmed that Miss Legs was to blame. He asked me 
if I had been poking up the floor boards in her house recently, and he ended his 
insulting speech by laughing so loudly that I scarcely heard Poaza telling me that 
I had caught no fish because I didn’t know how to catch fish. Thus was I repaid 
for bringing the animals on the expedition. I redoubled my efforts, but not so 
much as a minnow would take my hook! 



By two o’clock we had as many fish as the boat would hold, and by then the 
wind was blowing half a gale. First we tried to sail back, but the sea was too 
choppy to make headway in a flat-bottomed boat. After a tack to the north and 
one back to The Rock we were a quarter of a mile farther away than when we 
had started. So we stowed the sailing gear, got out the oars, and started rowing. It 
was three o’clock by then. By four o’clock we were back alongside The Rock; 
by sundown we had gone perhaps one mile. Pulling lustily, the boat did not seem 
to move: it seemed anchored with a stem kedge. 

And then, when the sun had set and we were no more than a half mile from Te 
Arai Reef, my unimaginative fishermen started talking about the canoes that had 
been lost with all hands when unexpectedly the current had changed. First-Born, 
who knows more about Te Arai Reef than most of the neighbors, said that often 
the current changes from south to north without warning. When this happens the 
tide rip smooths off on the south side of the reef and forms on the north side— 
where we were now! 

I could bear only to glance at Te Arai in the gloomy evening light. It was a 
murderous sight: great, towering jet-black walls of water marching toward us 
inexorably. I knew these black walls of water, moving so deliberately, sometimes 
toppling over in thunderous and confused cataclysms, were unconcerned 
whether or not they engulfed us, broke our boat to kindling, killed us. We could 
not argue the point with them, supplicate them, offer them cash money. They 
would keep on moving, oblivious to our entreaties, oblivious that they were 
destroying us, oblivious to having left tragedy in their wake. 

Now and again I glanced at the combers, and I heard their dull thunder, and I felt 
very small and pitiful, and I might have shown my terror in some unmanly way 
had not Poaza and William been there; but as it was I shouted an unfelt witticism 
and lay manfully to my oar. 

I could have kissed that barrier reef. It represented shelter and, what was perhaps 
more acceptable, rest, for no work fatigues me more than rowing. We stepped 
the mast again, set sail, and skimmed along happily with a beam wind to make 
the boat passage at about nine o’clock. 

Desire and her objectionable sisters and cousins said not one word when, during 
the fish division, I refused to take any because they were too gamy for my taste. 

I have mentioned what a gentle wife Desire is, how resigned she is to my 



eccentricities. Well, I have been mistaken. Like all women, she is a little shrew. 
Think of it: next morning, laid neatly by my coffee bowl was a handleless spoon 
with two little holes drilled through it! Desire, Mama, Pati, and Tili had found 
positions where they could watch me when I slumped down in my chair, filled 
my bowl, and picked up the spoon. They grinned like harpies, and Desire, the 
vixen, lisped sweetly: “Perhaps you can hold your fingers under the holes, 

Ropati sweetheart! It is the only spoon we have!” Then Pati trilled something 
about “Ropati te tautai!” which I suppose means “Ropati the fisherman!” And 
Tili murmured: “There goes the poor little duck, Desire! How tired he looks! He 
didn’t sit down all night long!” And at the same time Mama pushed a tin of bully 
beef toward me in a meaningful way, her lips pressed tightly together. 

The trading schooner is many months overdue. For nine months (save for 
Horatio’s spectacular return) we have had but one hint of contemporary life on 
this planet—smoke on the horizon, fugitive smoke too timid to reveal its source. 

I stared at it through my 22 pounds, 7X binocular, but not a sign of a 
smokestack, let alone a hull, could I see. At times it rose in a heavy black cloud, 
indubitable smoke; then again it dissolved in the horizon clouds. Presently I 
decided it was passing to westward. In a fit of disappointment I flung my 
binocular on the ground and broke one of the lenses. Now I have to use it as a 
monocular, and all because a damn-fool captain was not considerate enough to 
pass close to the reef so I could buy a few fresh provisions, and perhaps some 
medicine, for poor little Desire ... I know she will recover if only I can feed her 
milk, eggs, potatoes, bread—anything to keep up her strength ... but as it is ... 

The rest of the world seems very unreal indeed. Sometimes I wish that Pure 
could repair his hopelessly broken wireless set so that I could sit in his station 
and, hearing him mutter: “Trenn is speaking: he sends his greetings!” re¬ 
establish objective relations with the now mythic world. 

The last teaspoonful of sugar was used long ago. There is still enough tea for 
another month if I use it sparingly, boiling the leaves a long time. The soap is 
gone too, but there is a vine here that takes its place after a fashion. The idea is 
to bathe in the sea first, then rinse off in fresh water, rubbing one’s self with a 
great mass of vines. As for clothes, one wears as few as possible, for at best they 
are smelly. 

I still have a little tobacco, and probably a few of the neighbors have tiny 
morsels hidden in the thatch or in the bottom of their chests. Poor old Deacon 



Bribery devotes his entire time to hunting and begging tobacco. A few nights ago 
he appeared on the back porch with a basket of taro and a fowl. After the 
presentation and a suitable speech he stood anchored in the exact center of the 
porch, grinning foolishly or perhaps imploringly, but anchored nevertheless. It 
took no great perspicacity to divine that Bribery would not leave the porch until I 
had given him some tobacco. I was reluctant to part with any, for I have cut 
myself down to three smokes a day to make my tiny hoard last another month or 
two; but I couldn’t have Bribery die on my porch, so I gave him a morsel of 
twist about as big as a bean. Immediately, with shaking fingers, he cut it up and 
packed it in his astonishingly black and greasy pipe, lit it, and sucked in a single 
deep breath; then, extinguishing the coal with his finger so as not to waste any of 
the precious poison, he staggered to one of the porch posts to fall against it and 
cling to it for a long time. “I’m drunk! I’m drunk!” he groaned happily. “My 
head is twisted in a knot!” 

It looked as though Deacon might die on my premises after all. I learned later 
that it was the first smoke he had had in ten days barring hernandia leaves, 
coconut roots, and husks. Being pure perique, it was as effective as poison gas. 
He will make the pipeful last a long time, taking a single breath of smoke a day. 

Horatio is no better off than the rest of us. Even his social life is slackening, now 
that he has no tea or coffee to keep him awake through the moonlight watches. 
This morning I called on him, and, looking down his nose for the first time in 
weeks, he told me he had resolved never again to be unfaithful to Susanna. 

“Oh yes,” I commented, “this morning at coffee Desire told me that Kura has 
jilted you.” 

Hory scarcely heard my whole sentence. At the word “coffee” his brain became 
blocked. “Coffee, you said?” he asked, raising his eyes from his nose. “Now, 
Ropati, if you are drinking coffee I shall be very angry with you. It is not right 
for you to drink coffee when the resident agent has none. If you have any coffee, 
Ropati, you must share it with me.” 

I told him Desire had hidden a spoonful particularly for my birthday. 

“Oh,” Hory sighed, again looking down his nose. “So it is your birthday. I hope 
you many happy returns, I am sure.” 


“Let’s talk about Kura,” I suggested. “Tell me about the time her papa caught the 



two of you under the magnolia bush.” 


Hory being too humiliated to reply, I picked up a magazine and started turning 
the pages idly. Presently I came to a colored picture of a man in the act of biting 
into a sandwich. I turned the magazine so Hory could see the picture. A look of 
bathos came into his eyes. 

“What is it, Ropati—bread?”, he asked with a strange little snicker. 

“A sandwich,” I replied. “Ham!” 

Then he laughed outright, ending on a high falsetto note; and instantly after he 
glanced at me to see if I had noticed the evidence of lessened self-control. I 
stared blankly at the thatching overhead, whistled a tune, and reflected that such 
things as ham sandwiches meant little to me, “Why,” I muttered, “I’d rather read 
a page of Proust than eat any number of ham sandwiches.” 

Rising to leave, I said: “You’d better go back to Kura, Horatio. I know she loves 
you. She feels terribly bad because you have jilted her. Desire told me that last 
night Kura cried her eyes out. She may kill herself if you forsake her! An 
important person like you should not win a maiden’s love and then cast her 
aside. She needs you, Horatio, needs you! Moreover, living alone on the last 
outpost of progress, with no other entertainment, you have a right to your social 
life.” 

So I flattered and lied; and Hory listened, believed, and decided that he might 
“forgive” Kura. 

Here I am, trying to be cheerful when there is no cheer in my heart. I shall not 
open my journal again unless Desire’s health improves or I have something 
pleasant to narrate. 

Now there shall be an exciting entry, a happy entry, an entry smelling of beer and 
onions and noisy with the whoops of the neighbors! 

Horatio had been down with a bout of filariasis and was hopping around on half 
a leg, looking down his nose, unable to prosecute even his social life. I had read 
through my bookshelf to The Manual of Dermatology and was turning for very 
problematical relief to a second reading of The Complete Works of Anthony 
Trollope ... when suddenly ... out of the blue ... sail ho! 



Like a flash I shaved, bathed, dressed in immaculate white drill, put on my shiny 
black manowar shoes, and got my new cork helmet out of the cordia-wood box. 
Then when Desire had tied my black four-in-hand tie I kissed her good-by, 
promised her a grand meal as soon as I returned ashore, and walked with 
dignified slowness to the reef boat, where Araipu was waiting for me with Pio, 
Deacon Tane, and Constable Benny. 

We did not think of Honorable Horatio until we were in the shallows, halfway to 
the reef. Then it occurred to us that we should have waited for him, so we held 
back the boat with our oars shoved in the sand. Presently we saw Poaza and 
First-Born paddling Hory like mad across the bay, and when they were close we 
could see a suitcase in Hory’s lap while in his hands were papers, envelopes, 
stamps, and pound notes. He transshipped himself to my boat, snarling 
something about my expecting him to swim to the ship; but he was too excited to 
remember long that he was peeved. After a few quick perfunctory glances down 
his nose he heaved his inflamed leg on the gunwale and started shifting his 
papers, envelopes, stamps, and pound notes from one hand to the other as 
aimlessly as old Mama shifts eggs and biscuits and butter and things from one 
hand to the other. 

“Is my necktie straight, Ropati?” he asked, screwing up his chin. 

“No, Horatio,” I replied, and forthwith straightened the silly little black bow tie 
on the celluloid turndown collar, but only to notice it slip askew again. 

“I wish you would call me Mr. Augustus today,” he said fretfully, “I don’t mind 
being called Horatio when we are alone, but now that we are going aboard a 
strange ship you must remember that I am the resident agent.” 

“Okay, Mr. Augustus,” I said, and then told the boys to pole us to the reef. On 
crossing, Horatio got his trousers wet as well as his sheaf of papers, envelopes, 
stamps, and pound notes, while the silly little bow tie worked from a forty-five- 
degree to a vertical position; then we forgot papers, ties, and malicious intents to 
leave ties askew, for the most beautiful vessel ever to visit Danger Island 
rounded the northern point! She clove the water at a good twentyfive knots; her 
brass glistened; a flag flew from her mast! 


Lying in the swell close to the reef, Horatio and I squinted at the flag; then, when 
the vessel was close to us, Horatio asked: “What flag is that, Ropati? Is that the 



Japanese flag?” 


I had recognized it by then. My heart was thumping; I could scarcely speak. 

“No, Mr. Augustus,” I replied, tears starting from my eyes. “No, Hory, damn 
you! ... It’s the good old Stars and Stripes!” 

We had a devil of a time getting aboard her. Though we had fairly scudded 
across the lagoon and through the shallows—though we had made the reef 
shipshape and Bristol fashion and pulled out to sea handsomely—now my able- 
bodied oarsmen started staring. Rot them! There’s something missing in the 
Danger Island brain. 

The people are incapable of doing or thinking two things at once ... as is 
demonstrated by Mama, who when she sets the teakettle on the stove can do 
nothing else until the water has boiled. Asked what she is doing, she replies, 
“Boiling the water.” Probably she would throw a fit if she had to set the table or 
make the coconut milk while the water was heating. But when the teakettle sings 
she moves it to the back of the stove, then methodically if aimlessly does her 
other duties, and, last of all, she brews the tea with the now cold water. 

My husky oarsmen stared at the coast guard cutter Telemachus, and because they 
could not do two things at once they stopped rowing. I yelled a few sharp 
commands, but they could not hear me and observe the ship at the same time. 
Horatio yelled some commands, but was heard only by the men aboard the 
cutter. The wind drifted us closer. We could see the swank officers by the 
accommodation ladder, grinning and nudging one another, and all the sailors on 
the fo’c’sle deck, also grinning and nudging one another. Though I felt silly I 
yelled some more; but the damn-fool oarsmen continued to sit rigid and goggle- 
eyed, their oars held stiffly and unconsciously at varying angles, their heads 
twisted round on their shoulders, their eyes glued on Telemachus, their mouths 
open. We were abeam by now. A little farther and the remarkable oarsmen’s 
heads would be twisted completely round, their necks would be broken, and we 
should drift with their dead bodies to Samoa— if Telemachus didn’t bother to 
pick up such a boatload of lunatics. 

Hory and I actually had to jump up and work shoulder to shoulder before we 
managed to rouse our noble oarsmen from their absorption in the ship and force 
them to row us to the accommodation ladder. The resident agent boarded her 
first, his tie making a complete revolution with each step he took up the ladder. I 



saw him unceremoniously turned over to one of the officers and led away. 


Then, nonchalantly, my four-in-hand tie hanging exactly right, my cork helmet at 
just the proper daring angle, I climbed up the ladder. 

But I felt like a silly fool nevertheless, and the feeling was intensified when I 
reached deck and the officers started clicking their heels and saluting me— 
saluting me, Ropati-tane of PukaPuka! I took off my helmet, wondered if it were 
the proper thing to do, started saluting rapidly and nervously, grinned, turned 
red, and sputtered: “My name is Ropati.” 

“Yes, yes, Mr. Ropati,” someone murmured. “Follow me, please. The 
commander is waiting for you in his quarters.” Then, as I followed him, with 
hundreds of eyes staring at me, he added: “You had quite a pull getting out to us, 
didn’t you? Ha, ha!” 

When I was ushered into the commander’s sitting room I found a group of 
distinguished-looking gentlemen waiting for me. One stepped forward, with 
outstretched hand, smiling. I seemed to recognize him. 

“It is a great pleasure to meet you again, Ropati!” he said. “You may remember 
me: I am the curator of the Museum, Mr. O’Neill.” And then, as though in a 
dream, I heard him murmur: “Let me introduce you to Captain Bier of the coast 
guard cutter Telemachus ... and Honorable George Prince, the congressman. 
Having read your Contemplative Essays and being greatly impressed by them, 
Mr. Prince arranged with the Coast Guard to have Telemachus call here— 
particularly to meet you!” 

Dizzy, drunk as I had ever been on mangaro beer, I scarcely heard that excellent 
gentleman the curator when he continued: “And let me introduce you to Mr. 
James Powers, who is in charge of the Phoenix Islands Colony; and Mr. George 
Chudde, collector of customs; and Dr. Wolfe, senior medical officer of the Coast 
Guard. 

“All right, if you’re through, let’s eat,” Captain Bier drawled like a true down- 
East Yankee, and motioned to the table that had been set in his sitting room. “We 
have delayed lunch so we could have the pleasure of your company,” he added. 

Horatio had been relegated to the wardroom; I was dining with the commander 
and the distinguished passengers! Yet I scarcely touched the food. We get that 



way on the atolls. We dream of potatoes and beefsteaks, but when we are served 
these foods we cannot relish them: they are strong, salty, unpalatable. 

Congressman George Prince seemed to know intuitively how I should be served. 
“Have a can of beer?” he suggested. 

A steward, as distinguished in manners as the rest of the company, produced a 
can of beer—the first I had ever seen—and opened it with a little gadget that 
filled me with admiration. He gave me the gadget later, thus ascertaining that his 
memory would live on Danger Island with the memories of the heroes. 

I drank the beer and fiddled with the food. I drank another can of beer, felt more 
at home, and invited them ashore; but the captain said that if they left the ship it 
would “create an international crisis, for he had not received permission to land, 
though he and Congressman Prince had applied through the consul in 

Wellington, the British Ambassador, and the Court of St. James.And all,” 

he added with charming blarney, “so we could see for ourselves the heavenly isle 
that has lured you from the land of your fathers.” 

I was about to tell him that Danger Island had not lured me from my native land; 
that in fact I longed to return to my old position in the hair-oil business, and that 
I was more than half determined to throw myself at the feet of Penelope ... but 
then it occurred to me that a classical allusion would sound dippy; and anyway, 
James Powers had jumped to his feet in his energetic way and shouted: “Now, 
Ropati, we’ll show you some Yankee trading!” 

The main deck had been roped off fore and aft so one half could be used by the 
Danger Islanders, who had come off by the score, and the other half by the 
officers, crew, and passengers. With true Yankee enterprise these last were 
carrying on trading such as would take the shine out of the wildest business rush 
ashore: mats, hats, pearl-shell hooks, shell wreaths, and sennit for old clothes 
and dollar bills. It reminded me of the Stock Exchange; but instead of a man 
yelling, “Five thousand Hair Oil!” he would whoop: “Hey, you! A busk fer yer 
straw hat!” or, “Gimme that grass carpet! A pair of pants fer yer grass carpet!” 

There must have been a hundred buyers and a hundred sellers, all yelling for all 
they were worth. Never before had the Danger Islanders received such wealth 
for their goods. James Powers had a suitcaseful of his wife’s old clothes— 
clothes that would make history on Danger Island but were worthless to Powers. 




A crowd of natives surged about him, yelling their heads off; and he handed out 
the ancient laced satin, the velvet, the voile, to gather in an immense heap of 
native gear. The natives believed they were robbing the white men with a 
vengeance, Any villager would have given all he owned for one of Powers’ old 
dresses. But conversely the white men fancied they were doing some slick 
trading, so everyone was happy. 

Of course I was in demand. “What’s this?” Poaza would whoop, waving a dollar 
bill over his head. “Is it money? Is it a pound?” Then Dr. Wolfe would grab my 
arm and shout in my ear: “Get me that shell wreath! Tell him I’ll give him a 
w’stcoat for it.” Or old Mr. Scratch would wheeze: “Ropati! Ropati! Tell them 
I’ll trade my cane for a pipe!” 

Presents were heaped on me. Congressman George Prince forced into my hands 
a box of Habana cigars and never asked for my vote; the curator gave me an 
ethnology; the collector of customs cried in my ear, above the racket: “I’ve just 
had a gross of canned beer put in your boat!” and the captain shouted in the other 
ear: “I’m sending ashore some fresh meat and butter and things!” Then the 
doctor gave me a bottle of bourbon, with a little sticker on it telling the sad tale 
of how Officer So-and-so had seized it from such-and-such a car, and later he 
gave me some morphine and heroin for Desire. Then Powers gave me a toy 
balloon and a voile dress for Johnny. Lord A’mighty! Horatio threw a fit of 
jealousy when he saw all the presents! 

Before long I managed to get aside with the chief steward and buy a boatload of 
provisions. Only superlatives express what they were like. The flour came in 
fifty-pound tins and would keep for years. And the onions! Each one was a 
perfect specimen fit for a county fair, while our trade onions come to us virtually 
in the form of onion soup. Two-pound tins of pineapples at seven cents a tin! 
Tobacco at forty cents a pound—and our trade tobacco is four dollars! I bought 
and bought until the boat was heaped high, but even then the steward urged me 
to take more. “No fancy goods?” he asked. “We have cases of pork and beans, 
clam chowder, tomato juice, peaches, pickles sweet or sour, most anything you 
can name.” So I bought some fancy goods too, hoping that Desire might eat 
them, but wondering, at the same time, how I could get everything ashore. 

Presently the collector of customs led me to the wardroom, where I was 
introduced to a number of officers and to a newspaper reporter. Think of it! A 
newspaper reporter at Danger Island, and as true to type as they make them! I 



had scarcely shaken hands with him when he started asking questions, but I 
escaped him for the moment, for just then cans of beer were being opened, and I 
have never been able to give impressions to newspaper reporters while cans of 
beer are being opened. 

The beer soon went to my head. I became very talkative. Again the reporter 
asked for my impressions of Danger Island, so, purposely misunderstanding him, 
I gave him my impressions of the men aboard Telemachus. 

“I am impressed,” I said, half fuddled by now, “by the wellgroomed—one might 
almost say immaculate—appearance of these my countrymen. There are no bow 
ties askew; the clothes fit well; the shoes are polished, the hair recently cut. The 
faces of these my countrymen,” I continued, a tear glistening in my eye, for I 
was rapidly becoming more fuddled, “are clean-shaven and healthy. They are 
full of energy. They are enterprising. This is particularly noticeable to me, for the 
white men in this part of the world are a lackadaisical set of loafers, myself 
excepted. All in all, gentlemen, I am so favorably impressed that I drink to your 
health!” 

I turned to glance at Mr. Chudde’s boyish fifty-year-old face. I could see that he 
was having the time of his life, was recapturing his youth. He had let his beard 
grow, his hair too. He was dressed in work pants and a black smoking jacket. 
Now and again he would let a “damn” escape his lips in a way that suggested it 
was not customary. He drank his beer with gusto, even bravado; he gestured in a 
devil-may-care manner. In fact, he was extremely likable. 

More cans of beer were opened; then a message came from the captain that he 
was sailing immediately, so I upended my can and hurried to the main deck. The 
natives had been herded into their canoes; Horatio was on his way ashore; 
apparently I was the only one left aboard. I shook hands with the distinguished 
gentlemen gathered by the ladder and climbed into my boat. 

“Will you make it?” Captain Bier called. Glancing down, I noticed that the 
gunwale was within two inches of the water. The boat was heaped four feet high 
with provisions, and on top of the provisions squatted a flock of natives. But I 
was full of Yankee beer and knew the passengers could be jettisoned if need be, 

so, “Sure!” I yelled back. “Just watch us.Give way, boys!” and we moved 

toward the reef. 



Telemachus turned on her heel as niftily as a soldier doing the about-face. Away 
she marched at double time; but when she was a mile or so off we saw her 
suddenly do a rightabout-march and steam back to us. 

There on deck was Araipu! The vicar’s eyes were like saucers! We could see he 
was badly scared. Well, he was got aboard, and Telemachus speeded over the 
horizon. 

At first Araipu was too scared to talk, but by the time we had crossed the reef he 
managed to tell us that he had been wandering about the ship in a kind of daze 
and had got into a room where there was a row of white basins. Then he had 
noticed at least a dozen doors and had wondered vaguely by which one he had 
entered. Perplexed, he had chosen a door at random, opened it, and found 
himself in a tiny room empty save for a roll of paper and a sort of basin with 
water in it and a pump handle at one side. The door had locked itself behind him 
while he was leaning over to examine the strange basin, and at the same time he 
had heard the engines churning as the ship got under way! For a little time 
Araipu had tried to open the door, then he had noticed a space beneath it big 
enough to crawl through. He lay flat on the floor, and he was worming his way 
out when someone came in, discovered him, and hurried him on deck. 

By the time we had reached Yato Point, Araipu was full of courage again: he was 
bragging about his adventure; he was telling us that for tuppence he would have 
gone with Telemachus to the Island of the White Men. “I always did want to see 
Falisico [Frisco],” he declared. In a day or two he will claim he had tried to stow 
away. 

Desire was quite cheerful when I got home. We had a grand meal of beef and 
onions, boiled potatoes with butter oozing all over them, and three tins of 
pineapples. After the meal Desire downed a can of beer and then gave me 
permission to make a night of it, so, “Sit you down, William,” I ordered the 
heathen retainer, and continued, when he had placed his hoary person on the 
triclinium’s south couch: “Here I have a gross of canned beer.... Sit still, damn 
you! Don’t grab! ... And here”—displaying a nickel-plated gadget—“I have a ... 
thing. We shall call it a can opener. I fix the opener on the can, thus, pull upward, 
and pierce an equilateral triangle in the can. Like a cumulus cloud the beer foam 
rises above the tin horizon. I fix the opener on the other side and pierce another 
hole, this being done so a vacuum will not be formed when you suck beer out of 
the first hole... . Physics, you see, William! Here, you low fellow, drink heartily 



to the President of the United States, God bless him!” 



EPILOGUE 


For a long time I have been too gloomy to write. Of course I am referring to 
Desire’s illness. She is slipping away from me; there is no hope for her recovery. 

For months I have been trying to work up enough fortitude to write this, and 
thereby, perhaps, lessen my pain by establishing it as a thing that cannot be 
avoided, a thing inexorable, destined; but always I have managed, some way or 
other, to postpone the unpleasant task. Even now I am not at all certain that I 
shall finish it. I suppose we are all that way. When we have an unpleasant task to 
do we unconsciously postpone it by finding other things to attend to first. Before 
opening my journal I found it necessary to mend my fish net; then I moved 
toward my writing table, but only to note some scraps of pandanus leaf on the 
floor where I had been making cigarette papers. So I cleaned them up, and while 
doing so I remembered, by a natural association of ideas, that the rubbish pile by 
the cookhouse needed burning. And finally, when everything had been attended 
to, I felt nauseated, too ill to write. I was about to give it up when Desire started 
coughing and thus drove me to writing to him the reality in the narration thereof. 

I have told you little of Desire’s illness. If the details have been scant it is not 
because of callousness on my part but rather cowardice. I have been afraid to 
admit that the diagnosis is all too evident: tuberculosis— the same affliction that 
killed Tangi. I try to delude myself into believing it is something else. I study my 
Hughes’s Practice of Medicine, compare Desire’s symptoms with the ones 
described under scores of afflictions, and try to make myself believe she has 
some other complaint. For days I try to convince myself that she has chronic 
bronchitis. I distort the recognized bronchitis symptoms so they tally with those 
of Desire, but always in the end it comes back to the scourge of the South Seas: 
tuberculosis. 

True to type, I am spending my time trying to escape. Sometimes I wonder if I 
am spending my life trying to escape from something—myself perhaps. Half my 
dreams are of running away from an unseen pursuer, leaping down ridges, 
dashing through forests, swimming across rivers, with the sure knowledge that 
some person or intangible danger is pursuing me. Never have I seen this pursuer 
or known what the danger is; but he, or it, is none the less terrifying. 



But this is no dream in the little house at Yato Point. God knows I wish it were 
one. I am trying to escape from awareness of impending tragedy, and I am 
succeeding at times by telling the fribbling details of a trader’s life. 

Meekly carrying the lamp, William, like a hoary wise virgin, lighted us into the 
house, set the lamp on the floor, and departed without a word. Desire, drowsy 
with morphine, dozed in my arms and did not waken when I laid her gently on 
the sleeping mat. William having left, I blew out the lamp, then sat close to my 
wife. The fires burning here and there in the village cast fitful lights and 
shadows through the house, moved caressingly in Desire’s auburn hair and 
across the delicate sculpture of her face. 

Presently I changed to my pajamas, lay beside my wife, and lifted her feverish 
head to rest it gently on my arm. I did not wish to sleep: I wished only to be 
alone with her and my thoughts. My arm pressed about her, and a poignant 
longing came over me to tread with her the cavern path to the Pagan 
Underworld, to sit with her under the great hernandia tree of Tangi and listen to 
the gong music of Tulikalo, the laughter and songs of the gods. Much better such 
a hereafter than the harping and adoration of the Christian Heaven! And by and 
by we could descend, hand in hand, to the third level of the Underworld, where 
the ancients gossiped in Leva’s House of a Thousand Posts; where taro grew to 
maturity overnight and fish leaped from the sea to fill one’s canoe; where the 
souls of dead children played on the grassy knolls; where there were places of 
love more inviting than the places of the upper world; and where the strange 
Goddess Leva plaited in her mat figures symbolic of the earthly life of each 
spirit. You see, I know all about the nether world. In a few days Desire will 
grope down the cavern path. She will be alone in the awful blackness! Oh, if 
only I could walk before her so she could place her little foot in my footprint, 
feel some small comfort in the presence of her man! Then together we could 
wash away our earthly longings, our evil inclinations, even our memory of the 
upper world, in the pools of fresh water. We could listen to Tulikalo’s gong; we 
could sit on Hokamani’s stone; we could watch Leva incorporate in her mat the 
design of our lives, and, closely embraced as of old, we could sleep in a leaf- 
bowered place of love by the pagan sea! 


I dreamed that I had wakened in a strange house and, on going to the breakfast 
room, had found Desire seated at the table. She smiled and sipped her tea but did 



not speak; and she was dressed in the blue flowered voile that became her so 
well. Her long hair was done up in European fashion, with a wavy lock patted 
down on each temple, a tortoise-shell comb, and a gardenia behind her ear. She 
was as I loved to see her. 

I have said that she did not speak, but someone—myself to myself, perhaps — 
spoke for her. 

“She wanted to be with you,” the voice said softly, apologetically. “She could 
not bear to be away from you.” 

“It is cruel!” I exclaimed, staring at the gentle, fawn-eyed girl. “Now the pain, 
the dreadful anticipation must be repeated!” 

“Oh no,” the voice replied. “She is quite well again. She needed only a long 
rest.” 

“I am glad you have returned, Desire,” I said. “I thought you were—were gone!” 

Then the voice said in the same soft, apologetic way: “No, she did not die. It was 
a dreadful mistake. You are taking her to Hawaii now, as you often promised.” 

The scene changed and I dreamed that I was lying alone in the mosquito net 
when suddenly an edge of it was lifted and Desire crept in. She smiled, leaned 
over to kiss me, and made love in her intimate, deeply serious way. The dream 
was more vivid than a waking experience could be. When I woke I found myself 
weeping, and I remembered that Desire was dead. 

She died on the fourteenth of January, more than six months ago; and all this 
time I have been wandering about like a man in a dream, only vaguely aware 
that something has gone amiss. When asked: “Where are you going, Ropati?” I 
have replied: “I am searching for my wife. She must be at her mother’s house. I 
believe she has been ill and is taking some kind of a witch-doctor cure.” 

But now I remember how, the night before her death, we knew the end was near 
and we talked about it. She asked me to be close to her when she died and to 
hold her in my arms a little while afterward. At seven in the morning her sister 
Pati came. Then I sat on the floor, with my back braced against a wall post, and I 
held Desire in my arms; and then, in a little time, her heart fluttered—I could 
feel it under my hand—there was a convulsion, her breathing stopped, and she 



relaxed in my arms. Later she breathed once again, a little sign from the place of 
death, and that was the end. 

I told Pati to be quiet so as not to attract the neighbors; then I sat with Desire for 
a half hour, as she had asked me to; and by and by I closed her eyes and her lips, 
and I bathed her, and dressed her, and kissed her good-by. Pati sent for the 
relatives. They took Desire away, and I did not see her again. 



PART II THE HURRICANE 


(seven years later) 


Chapter I 

The trading ketch Hurry Home lumbered up to the boat passage at noon, and an 
hour later Captain Prospect came ashore, viewing life on the sunny side as he 
puffed prodigiously at the great calabash pipe that hung down to his Adam’s 
apple. On entering my house he squeezed his toothbrush and clean singlet in the 
bookcase between the works of Nat Gould and the shelf above them, then made 
himself at home, muttering at the time, even before a word of greeting or the 
latest news of World War II, that he liked my taste in books, and adding that he 
had just read a not-too-trashy yarn by Nat Gould entitled Madame Bovary— 
Bovary being from the Latin bovus, a cow. 

Probably Captain Prospect had taken for granted that I was at home, for he is 
very nearsighted and my house is dark to one coming in from the noonday glare. 
“I am glad to see you back at PukaPuka,” I said. “Sit down and tell me the news. 
Is there still a war going on?” 

“I suppose that is you, Ropati,” the captain replied in a matter-of-fact tone, his 
head cocked toward me and his eyebrows crimpled. “I saw somebody and 
thought it might be you ... . I’ve nearly gone blind since sailing among these 
atolls.” He grinned faintly and a merry twinkle came into his green farset eyes. 
“The people in Rarotonga claim it’s due to alcohol,” he went on, chuckling 
dryly. “They say my eyes are bloodshot and bleary because I’m a secret drinker 
—and I never touched a drop of alcohol in my born days.” 

Captain Prospect folded his wiry self on a mat in a corner of the room and 
started repeating all the gossip from the Cook Islands. So important to him was 
the local South Sea scandal that I could scarcely turn his mind from it long 
enough to learn that my country had entered the war. 

“Yes, yes, Ropati; we’re allies now,” he told me. “America fell into the war just 



before my radio battery ran down. That was about two weeks ago. The Japs 
bombed Pearl Harbor, sank half the Pacific fleet, and they may be sinking my 
ship from under me if I don’t keep a sharp lookout... . But on the other hand 
Hurry Home is a lucky ship, if I do say so myself. I’d just as soon take my 
chances on her as ashore.” 

“Perhaps the children and I will take our chances on her, now that the U.S.A. is 
in the war,” I said after he had satisfied my many questions. “I’d like to get close 
to civilization, in case I’m needed.” Then, with a good deal of sincerity, I added 
that I should prefer sailing on Hurry Home to any luxury vessel that ever tossed 
her proud head above the billows. 

“Perhaps, perhaps,” Captain Prospect assented cautiously. “Of course that’s the 
way I feel about my ship; but to some passengers—the finical kind— she may 
have her drawbacks—a little slow, perhaps, and not what you’d call luxurious. 
But I’ll tell you one thing, Ropati: she has the big Rarotonga traders on their 
toes. She’s making history in these islands! Now take that fellow Tenneb, the 
Line Islands’ manager. I’ve got him eating out of my hands, I have. He tried to 
stop me carrying passengers—said my ship wasn’t seaworthy. My ship not 
seaworthy! She’s the huskiest little packet in this ocean, and she can outsail 
Tenneb’s worm-eaten old schooner, fair wind or foul. And as for safety and 
comfort...” And so on until finally I managed to turn him back to the subject of 
our departure from PukaPuka. He agreed to take us, but mentioned that we 
would have to stop on uninhabited Suvarrow Atoll a month or two while he 
refitted. 

Late in the afternoon he left me, to take tea with the resident agent. While 
moving out the doorway he told me to be ready to go aboard at noon the next 
day, which meant, however, in two or three days. 

“Hurry Home will call at Suvarrow!” I exclaimed to myself as I left the house to 
look for the cowboys and tell them the exciting news. I pictured my four 
children—the cowboys—chasing fish in the reef shallows, hunting wide-awake 
eggs on the sand cays, exploring the jungle. There was Son Jakey coming into 
camp with a giant coconut crab, his chest thrust out, his eyes agleam; and six- 
year-old Elaine hunting periwinkles on the fringing reef; and little Nga-the- 
youngest playing in the clean white sand of Anchorage Island, digging up, 
mayhap, the gold of an old Spanish adventurer; and Daughter Johnny being a 
ten-year-old mother to the other children, full of the joy of responsibility now 



that there were no servants to take the spice out of doing things in her own way; 
and the old man himself, in glowing health, thankful to be at last on an island 
where he can invite his soul without disturbance from those pests of the South 
Sea—mosquitoes, flies, and roosters. It would be a fitting way to bid farewell to 
the island life. 

“Bundle up your dresses,” I said to Johnny when I found her with the rest of the 
cowboys. “We’re sailing on Hurry Home. We’ll go to Suvarrow first, then to 
America, where we’ll ask our uncle for a job.” 

“What uncle?” Johnny wanted to know. 

“Uncle Sam,” I replied. 

Probably the artist in Captain Prospect brought him to the South Seas, but, once 
arrived, the man in him had to subjugate the artist to survive. Now the artist 
defends his fall by pretending not to see, save at unguarded moments, the 
beautiful in island life. Captain Prospect has a genuine appreciation for good 
books, but he disguises it by claiming, with waggish humor, that he never heard 
of any author except Nat Gould. “Oh, that book!” he’ll mutter. “I’ve read that 
book. It was by Nat Gould or one of those author fellows.” Likewise he excuses 
the accidental use of a rare or poetic word by giving it an imaginary Latin root 
and thus passing it off as an idle conceit. 

Two unhappy contradictions of character have been the curse of his life: that is, 
an artistic temperament in conflict with the necessity to live on next to nothing, 
and a capacity for friendship in conflict with an overpowering mania for gossip. 
But whatever failings he may or may not have, his virtues outbalance them. 
Bloodshot and bleary though his eyes may be, an occasional twinkle in them 
tells of a rich sense of humor and a kindly temper. Short and bony though his 
body may be, in it lies the heart of both an artist and a doughty seaman. 

Mayhap the artist in him transfigures decrepit old Hurry Home into a white¬ 
winged clipper ship, but, whatever his vision, he is without doubt a courageous 
man and a stubborn one. He is putting up a gallant fight to make his little sea 
louse pay, and, incomprehensible to all the traders in these islands, he is keeping 
her afloat. There was little dissimulation in me when I told him I should prefer 
sailing in Hurry Home to any luxury vessel that ever tossed her proud head 
above the billows. 



Formerly Captain Prospect was master of a schooner in the island trade. On his 
first departure from Rarotonga, Tenneb, his firm’s manager, told him to hurry 
round the Lower Group and hurry home. And on subsequent voyages the 
instructions were always the same: “Hurry home, hurry home,” until Captain 
Prospect became rebellious. “All right, I’ll hurry home,” he grimly assured the 
manager, and from then on he made such quick passages that Tenneb could not 
find enough work to keep his schooner at sea. She lay in port half the time, 
exasperating Tenneb and gratifying Prospect. Before long Tenneb suggested that, 
due to depressed business conditions, the schooner might make more leisurely 
passages; but Prospect shook his head stubbornly, growled that he must hurry 
home, and proceeded to break all former records. The outcome was that they 
parted with mutual ill esteem. Then Prospect bought his little ketch and, perhaps 
in both drollery and resentment, christened her Hurry Home. But not even he, 
optimist that he is, would hint that his vessel is able to get home in a hurry. 

In this vessel we sailed today—Daughters Johnny, Elaine, and Nga; Son Jakey; 
the old man; and, among the household goods, four camphorwood chests, a roll 
of mats, a case of books, and a PukaPuka sailing canoe—which last pretty well 
occupies the entire deck, but promises a grain of safety should Hurry Home meet 
with misadventure, the canoe being more seaworthy than the ship. 

Hurry Home is of about twentyfive tons. She has no engine, she will not sail 
better than an average raft, and her topsides are from five to eight feet out of the 
water, giving her the appearance of a floating packing case. Her gear is rotten, 
her sails have to be patched after every puff of wind, her rope is gray and 
threadbare, and there is no spare rope or canvas aboard her. She has five rusty oil 
drums for water, insufficient provisions to carry her back to her home port, no 
passenger accommodations whatsoever— yet often she carries from ten to 
twenty—and she exudes a fetor that distinguishes her from all Portuguese 
sponge fishers, Chinese junks, and garbage scows—a peculiar stench that is best 
left undescribed. Furthermore, she leaks on topsides and bottomsides; there is no 
w.c. or even a basin for washing one’s hands, and not even a galley. But there is 
a rusty tin trunk seized to the taffrail aft, with three iron bars driven through it 
for a grate, and in this strange contraption Oli-Oli, the Puka-Pukan cook, boils 
water and cooks a mess called stew—a mess as nauseous as the stench of Hurry 
Home herself. 

When it blows and rains the tin trunk is closed, a draft of air is sucked in it 
through a number of holes below the grating, and the smoke oozes out through a 



number of holes in its top. Captain Prospect is very proud of his “ship’s galley,” 
and solely because it was begotten by his ingenuity in salvaging junk. And as for 
the food dished out from the galley—well, perhaps his roseate spirit infuses a 
fragrance to even Oli-Oli’s mephitic stew and insipid tea. 

The galley is on the starboard quarter aft of the tiller; the substitute for a w.c. is 
on the port quarter. About two feet forward from the transom an old spar has 
been fixed athwartship, from railtop to railtop, and from this spar hangs a piece 
of ragged canvas. It is there as a symbol of modesty, but because it blows in 
one’s face when the wind is forward and blows away from one when the wind is 
aft, one relies on the delicacy of the sailors and passengers more than on the 
canvas for privacy. Only First Mate Tagi ignores, in this respect, the amenities of 
good breeding. 

The captain’s cabin is forward of the galley, the w.c., and the tiller. About six 
feet fore and aft by the width of the vessel there is a berth on either side, and 
between them a tiny table that is used for meals, cards, and a jumble of odds and 
ends. The starboard berth is for the captain, his magazines, his spectacles, 
clothes, oilskins, radio, and so on; the port berth and the rest of the cabin present 
a scrambled heap of everything that should not be in a captain’s cabin. 

Said the captain when we were drawing away from the land, headed for The 
Rock at the end of Te Arai Reef: “Now, Ropati, the chronometer is out of order, 
the radio battery is run down, I’ve got only a 1930 Nautical Almanac, my 
Epitome is a hundred years old, my eyesight is failing, and I don’t know what 
day of the month it is—but my sailors will know that.” He cleared his throat, a 
waggish flicker came into his farset eyes, and he asked: “Ropati, would you 
mind taking my ship to Suvarrow?” 

“Not at all,” I replied, “so long as you mean it.” 

“Of course I mean it,” he spat at me. “You take charge; then I’ll have plenty of 
time to play cribbage with you.” He blinked a few times in rapid succession, 
thoughtfully, then amended: “I don’t mean that you are to interfere with my 
sailors. My mate Tagi is a thoroughly capable man; and when he’s below, my 
second mate Takataka takes charge; and when they’re both below, my cook Oli- 
Oli sails my ship. What I want you to do is to navigate— and be on hand for a 
game of cribbage... . You don’t play chess?” 



I replied that I played a very poor game. 


“Then it’s no use playing with me,” Captain Prospect informed me, and added 
that he played the best chess in the Cook Islands, often taking on two or even 
three players at once, and invariably beating them. 

Just then my attention was turned to the children. We were beyond the lee of the 
west reef; Hurry Home was lurching and plunging, the children in the throes of 
seasickness. Poor cowboys! I had my hands full for the rest of the evening 
carrying buckets for them and trying to make them comfortable. When we had 
missed by inches The Rock’s fringing reef and had plunged and rolled through 
the tide rip that builds up beyond Te Arai Reef the sun had set, the night had 
turned squally, and I had to get the children—or the cowboys, as they prefer to 
be called—below. Johnny and Jakey managed to lower themselves into the hold, 
but I had to carry Elaine, while Oli-Oli carried Nga. 

Below was a mass of cargo stowed in any old way. Heaps of rusty chain and 
rocks for ballast; trunks, chests, and bundles; bags of flour and cases of beef; 
several hundred baskets of dried fish that smelled to high heaven; the five water 
drums; and no ventilation whatsoever. But there was a smoky little lamp by the 
light of which I managed to stow the cowboys here and there and furnish 
receptacles of sorts for seasickness. Poor dears! They were too ill to know or 
care whether they lay on chain or rocks or the corners of packing cases. 

Now they are asleep; it is raining hard; the air is so thick that they must be close 
to suffocation; and I myself am so close to that state that I must close my journal. 

“You’ve been to Suvarrow before, of course, Ropati,” Captain Prospect said after 
his spirit had been mellowed by winning three games of cribbage, “but you’ve 
never seen the island in a really pristine state.” He paused, and his brow clouded 
in thought as though, mayhap, he were fishing for a Latin root for pristine. 
Apparently not hooking one, he continued: “Suvarrow is grown up solid in 
jungle, right down to the water’s edge. The only place where you can walk 
without cutting a path through the bush is in the clearing where the old trading 
post used to be. That’s the way Suvarrow is now: it is a bird and crab and turtle 
sanctuary.” 

Captain Prospect tapped the cards into their box and shoved them, and the 
cribbage board, to the back of the table. Then, after a glance at the clock, he 



continued: “H.M.S. Leith stopped at Suvarrow for a few hours back in 1938, and 
the yacht Lorna D. was there for two days in 1939, and I called in for a short 
visit last year; otherwise no one has been on Suvarrow since you were there in 
1934. As I have said, Anchorage Island is a solid block of jungle .... But, Ropati 
—but before the year is out I will clear away the jungle, build houses, and 
establish the most unique tourist resort in the world! Instead of a sanctuary for 
birds, crabs, and turtles it will be a sanctuary for sun-hungry white men from 
New Zealand, London, New York!” 

He scowled slightly, as though in anticipation of some facetious remark; then, 
deciding that I was interested, he fumbled among the odds and ends at the back 
of the table until he had unearthed a scrap of paper. This he laid where we both 
could see it and started to comment on the items jotted thereon. 

“The Spa: That will be established on the north point of Anchorage Island, by 
that sun-heated swimming pool. A grand place for lungers and rheumatics— 
with a refreshment house and beach umbrellas by the fresh-water pools! That’s 
the first attraction. Second: Big Game Fishing: I have no doubt, Ropati, but that 
motorboats will be going out for swordfish every day. The time will come when 
no sportsman will consider himself worthy of the name unless he has fished at 
Prospect’s South Sea Tourist and Health Resort! Now, Jungle Expeditions: Very 
thrilling—at five shillings and sixpence a head, including transportation by 
Hurry Home to Seven Islands and back, and with a jungle feast of sea birds and 
coconuts thrown in. And finally, Games: Tennis, ping-pong, golf—” 

“Wait a minute, Captain,” I interrupted. “How can you play golf on an atoll 
where the biggest islet is not a mile long?” 

The captain eyed me sourly, muttered something about my lack of imagination, 
then glanced at the dock, and, “You’d better go on deck and take the sun,” he 
said. “It’s ten minutes to twelve. We might make Nassau this evening if you paid 
more attention to navigating and less attention to cribbage and wild schemes to 
establish a tourist resort on Suvarrow!” 

I took the sextant on deck but did not bother to keep the sun on the horizon, for I 
knew the latitude within a mile or two, having sighted the breakers on Tema 
Reef at sunrise. Oli-Oli, the Puka-Pukan cook, sailor, and general roustabout, 
was at work by the tin-trunk stove. He was naked to the waist, but his fat 
buttocks were covered partially by a ragged pair of cotton shorts, stiff with 



grease and grime and with a number of large rents and holes. The sweat poured 
from him on deck and often enough in the food he was preparing. Today he 
worked like a Trojan grating coconuts, squeezing the oil from the meat, then 
wiping his hands on his sweaty skin and in his hair. Presently the coconut oil was 
poured in the stew, the mess was stirred vigorously with a piece of firewood, and 
the pot was removed from the stove to be placed on deck where it would be 
handy to stumble against. Then Oli-Oli took the teakettle, which had been made 
from the half of a kerosene tin, filled it with water, and placed it in the stove. He 
added a half teaspoonful of tea leaves while the water was still cold, so he would 
not forget them, perhaps, for when the water had boiled it would be impossible 
to tell by sight, smell, or taste whether the tea had been added. In getting the tin 
on the fire he covered his hands with soot. This he wiped off on his skin but not 
in his hair. And finally, his labors for the moment accomplished, he rolled to the 
hatchway, where the cowboys were lying, and, being a Puka-Pukan and therefore 
feeling paternal relationship toward them, he picked up little Nga and fondled 
the rest of the soot, grime, sweat, and grease onto her unresisting person. This 
delighted Nga and amused the other cowboys; the two mates and the captain, 
who were on deck, did not seem to notice anything unusual about Nga’s soot- 
smeared face; and as for me—well, when traveling on Hurry Home one must not 
be fastidious. 

Takataka was at the pump, which is the only thing in good working order aboard 
Captain Prospect’s “ship.” He is ‘a handsome half-caste from Palmerston Island, 
about forty, and strong as a bull. He speaks the curious provincial English that 
was brought to Palmerston originally by William Marsters, a trading skipper who 
settled on the island with his three wives and forthwith increased and multiplied 
with a vengeance. “Yas,” Takataka, will say, “I smokes cigarettes; also I chaws 
tobaccer.” Or: “I tromped to my lond and I clombed a tree.” Though a little too 
obsequious for my taste, he has the manners of a gentleman. He alone of the 
crew eats his food with a knife and fork, removes his spoon from his cup of tea, 
and eschews conversation when his mouth is full. I believe Tagi and Oli-Oli 
resent this: they feel that he is putting on airs. Today, as I watched him at the 
pump, each to and fro motion seemed a gesture of protest against such ignoble 
labor for a descendant of Captain William Marsters. 

Querulous old Tagi, Hurry Home’s mate, was asleep forward in the shade of the 
jib. An indifferent sailor, a mighty eater, finical and likable as an old woman, 
Captain Prospect calls him “my first officer,” or “my mate Tagi,” perhaps 
humoring himself with the idea that his ship carries a mate, as well as a second 



mate and a cook—common sailors being superfluous. But Tagi has none of the 
qualities of an officer. If he tells Takataka and Oli-Oli to take in sail they tell him 
to do it himself, and he does it, in a mood at once resigned, peevish, and 
vindictive. If a black squall looms over the horizon and he calls the captain, as 
invariably he does, the captain reminds him that, being mate, he should do as he 
thinks best; but because he does not think, save only about food, fat women, and 
grievances, he then consults the second mate, who, as a matter of Palmerston 
politeness, takes the cook into consultation. The result is that they are consulting 
noisily when the squall strikes the vessel, when, often enough, one of the 
passengers may take in sail or the halyards may part and the sail come down of 
its own accord. 

But when there are fish to be caught, Tagi is the man of the moment. There is 
something savage about the way he brings in the bonito and the albacore. His 
orders are snarled too fiercely to be disobeyed. Of the sport of fishing he knows 
nought; to him each bonito he swings over the side is food, and food is second to 
nothing, not even to fat women and grievances. 

This is the mate to whom Captain Prospect gives complete charge of his ship. It 
seems all wrong, but the fact remains that, sooner or later, by guess or by God, 
without benefit of navigation or seamanship, Hurry Home often reaches her 
ports of call—sometimes she misses them. 

There is a light wind tonight and the sky is clear. The cowboys are asleep, all in 
a row on the main hatch. Tagi is sleeping on deck forward; Oli-Oli is stewing in 
his Black Hole of a forecastle; Takataka is at the tiller. If the wind holds we will 
be off the reef of Nassau early tomorrow morning—not bad sailing for Hurry 
Home: fifty miles in forty hours! 

We sighted Nassau dead ahead at daylight and were close aboard by 8 a.m. The 
seas were heavy on the reef, as they often are at Nassau—or Motu Ngaungau 
(Lonely Island), as the Puka-Pukans call this round, lagoonless, hillock of sand. 
We had little hope of landing our ton of cargo for the two white men and three 
natives who are at present the sole inhabitants of Lonely Island, and for some 
time we doubted if anyone would come out to us. Tagi, at the helm, brought the 
vessel close to the reef. We could see, over the high barrier of breakers and the 
stretch of shallows, the glaring white beach, a copra shed set back in the 
outstretched shadows of coconut trees, a hedge-bordered path leading to the 
houses on the windward side of the island, and under a clump of pandanus trees 



above the beach an outrigger canoe with a few coconut fronds laid over it. Save 
for these there was no sign of human life. 

“I guess they haven’t sighted us,” Captain Prospect muttered, “and that’s strange, 
because the arrival of my ship is a big occurrence in their lives.” 

“Thar they coam!” Takataka shouted. 

“Do you see them, Ropati?” Prospect asked. “Are they all there—all five?” 

“No, Captain; just two natives. They’re carrying the canoe down to the shallows 
now.” 

“I’m worried,” came from Prospect as he squinted toward the beach, his 
eyebrows knitted and his head thrust forward a little. “I hope nothing has 
happened to Ellenden and Clarke. They were such pleasant men!” 

The two natives pulled the canoe through the shallows and then held it in the 
rush of water on the reef. It was a long time before they attempted to shoot 
through the breakers, but at last a lull came; they rushed forward, swung 
themselves into the canoe, grasped the paddles and dug them into the water. It 
looked to us, at sea, as though they would never make it; but they knew what 
they were about. After seesawing over the crest, of a curling breaker they 
reached the calm water in the lee of the reef, then paddled leisurely to us. 

Of course there was plenty of shouting and laughing and tobacco cadging when 
they had boarded us, but Takataka managed to get the letter that one of them had 
in his hat. He brought it to the captain. 

“Read it to me,” the captain said. “I haven’t got my spectacles.” So I opened the 
letter and read: 

“DEAR CAPTAIN WHOEVER-TO-HELL-YOU-ARE: 

“We’ve been waiting for your damned sea louse since the middle of December. 
Where’s our case of Christmas beer and our mail? Send them ashore p.d.q. and 
to hell with the rest of the cargo. And tell the bloody Administration to next time 
send our gear by a sure ship—not by Noah’s Ark or a raft or Hurry Home. 


“ELLENDEN AND CLARKE” 



The captain didn’t comment on the letterr, but I could tell, by his expression of 
disappointment when the canoe had managed to recross the reef in returning to 
the island with the mail and beer, that he was deeply hurt. Also, I knew by the 
way he made his eyes snap that the letter would rankle in his soul for many a day 
to come. 

I felt genuinely sorry for Captain Prospect. I knew that such rebuffs pain him 
more than he is willing to admit. “To the devil with them,” I said, swinging my 
arm toward the beach. “We’ll treat them with silent contempt ... Let’s get under 
way for Suvarrow.” 

“Yes,” the captain replied, “I think we can ignore them.” Then he shouted to his 
mate, so lightheartedly that I could not believe it affected, “Set the stays’l, Tagi! 
We’ll show Ropati what the old lady can do when all her kites are flying!” And 
then, with a sudden, momentary change to asperity, “Noah’s Ark! A raft! I hope 
those fellows ashore see us, for really, Ropati, Hurry Home puts on quite a burst 
of speed with her stays’l set!” 

The sea is calm; not a ripple wrinkles her pinguid scalp. The sea louse crawls on 
the bald pate of the sea in a blue funk, searching in vain for a tuft of spray in 
which to hide her odious self as betimes she sucks the lifeblood from the ocean. 
But suck she does, as greedily now as when the sea wears a tousled head of hair. 
Each watch the sailors work a half hour at the pump. Shush shush, shush shush, 
the intermingle sound wakens me when I am sleeping below, and it seems that I 
wait for hours for the gurgling sound that apprises me the pump has sucked. 

The cowboys are well and have taken complete charge of the vessel, much to the 
annoyance of Tagi and the relief of Captain Prospect. I believe the captain would 
not hesitate to turn the vessel over to Jakey, and I believe that Jakey would be 
quite as trustworthy a first officer as Tagi. 

The children fancy they have embarked on an odyssey; they are “sailing swiftly 
over the broad back of the wine-dark unharvested sea” to fabulous lands beyond 
the edge of the world. To them the sea pest is a thing of magic; it is even 
beautiful, as are all things strange and incomprehensible. Johnny has been to 
Fiji, so she is able to tell the others of the wonders they will see in Rarotonga’s 
cinema, of the beatitude of the ice-cream parlor, the ecstasy of the motorcar, the 
ravishment of chewing gum. 



Fat little six-year-old Elaine squeals with delight when the sea louse rolls her 
hairy side in an oily swell. She pays much attention to her food, so as to make up 
for time lost during seasickness. What with the stew she plasters over her face 
while eating with her hands and the grime Oli-Oli plasters over her while 
fondling her, she is in a paradise of childish nastiness— God bless her! 

So is Nga, but somehow the youngest daughter does not seem so filthy. Perhaps 
it is because, being only half the size, there is not so much child to be soiled. 
Four-year-old Nga insists on climbing to the crosstrees several times a day to 
look for the land. This terrifies the captain, and his temper is not improved when 
I explain that the only danger lies in the rigging parting from the strain of her 
weight. 

“Lond ho!” Takataka sang out from the crosstrees. I climbed the tilted ratlines to 
where the Palmerston Islander was on lookout, and soon I made out a few dots 
seemingly suspended a little above the horizon. They were, of course, the tallest 
of the coconut trees on Anchorage Island—Suvarrow’s largest reef islet—raised 
above the horizon before the rest of the trees were visible. 

“Thar she lays,” said Takataka, grinning at me. “Yo’re a good cap’n. The sailors 
ne’er changed yor course at all, at all, and you rose the lond o’er the bo’sprit!” 

Then Takataka climbed cautiously down the rigging, testing each ratline with his 
bare foot before risking his weight on it. I stayed aloft until the sun had set and 
the misty, undulating line of treetops had risen above the sea marge and then 
faded in the darkening clouds. 

It is midnight now, but I have no wish to sleep, with lonely, haunted Suvarrow so 
close aboard. At eight o’clock I took the tiller for the first half of the watch; then 
Tagi relieved me, I went below, and, returning with my binocular, picked the 
island out of the darkness, stared at it, and recalled little idylls from the three 
months I had spent there on a former visit, when Desire was alive and Johnny 
and Jakey were babies. As I stared at the crumb of land, scarcely more than 
visible, I felt a pang of mingled sadness for the loss of Desire and happiness for 
my return to the island that somehow must shelter her spirit. 

Presently the sea fell calm. Then I heard resounding across the quiet water the 
thunder of breakers, far away on Suvarrow’s barrier reef. The sound came low 
and mournful, rising and subsiding, calling with a dreadful and yet fascinating 



insistence. Emotion welled up in me, I thought I could perceive the voice of 
Desire in that faraway lonely call. 


At 4 A.M. we were a half mile off Anchorage Island, with the passage into the 
lagoon dead ahead. There was a waning moon over our counter; the night was 
clear, the dawn close at hand. I remembered the landmarks and coral heads as 
well as though they were the familiar ones in PukaPuka lagoon, so I decided to 
take Hurry Home to the anchorage and not even apprise the captain. Having 
Prospect on deck would spoil the charm of this home-coming. How much better 
to sail in quietly, alone, breathing deeply betimes of the spirit of this Happy Isle! 
And probably the captain would not even mention that he had not been called, 
for he takes pride in the belief that he chooses unerringly men who can take 
better care of his vessel than he, and he delights in having his judgment 
vindicated in singular if not spectacular ways. 

Oli-Oli was at the tiller, half asleep as usual. I sent him to his stewpot of a 
forecastle, telling him not to call Tagi. The fat cook rolled greasily across the 
deck and plopped down the hatchway; a moment later Johnny and Jakey crawled 
aft to stand beside me. I told them not to speak lest they waken the captain. 

We made slow progress, for the wind was light and the last of the ebb tide was 
flowing out the passage. Anchorage Island lay over our starboard beam, a 
gloom-haunted mass of lowlying jungle less than a mile long. Presently it 
seemed more distinct, the stars faded, the first glimmer of a nether dawn lay 
phosphorescent and unearthly on Suvarrow’s lagoon. Sea birds piped as they 
passed overhead on their way to the morning’s fishing. Sometimes we could 
smell the land and the salty spray. The low thunder of reef combers filled the air 
and made us conscious of holy things; and to me these sensations were 
associated with the memory of Desire: I seemed to feel her presence welcoming 
us home with a pleasure both fierce and devoted. 

It was only half light when we rounded the south point of Anchorage Island; 
then, out of the tidal swell, we became aware suddenly of the pattering of ripples 
on Hurry Home’s side, the soft, unvarying plash of feathering water from her 
bow. Save for these scarcely audible sounds she moved in the lee of the land as 
silently as a ghost ship, as though reluctant to break the peace of this lonely land. 
When we were abreast of the stone wharf I brought the vessel into the wind and 
gave Johnny and Jakey the tiller to hold hard alee. Then, for a little time, I stood 
still, allowed my mind to go blank, and sensed the strange and sequestered 



beauty of this uninhabited place. I sensed the presence of the familiar spirit of 
place in the fragrant odor from the land, in the sustained drone of palm fronds, 
the clamor of birds, the deep undertone of reef combers rising and falling and 
mingling with the other sounds in a kind of fugue that expressed the loneliness 
and beauty of primitive things. 

To me Anchorage Island was alive with memories of men who had lived in her 
fastness, had dug gold, weighed pearls, loved native women, caroused, fought, 
and died. Now Time and the Jungle had claimed Suvarrow; now the creeping 
and the flying creatures had returned to the fastnesses; now only memories of the 
old days remained. 

The sky turned red and then dissolved to lighter shades. The dull glimmer of 
light on the lagoon ripples brightened to the glint of diamonds. Now we could 
see, far across the lagoon, misty and unreal, the coconut islets and sand cays that 
are threaded on Suvarrow’s reef. The Tou Group and Bird Islet lay six miles to 
the west, Turtle, One Tree, and Brushwood to the north. Seven Islands and the 
Gull Group were almost lost against a bank of clouds to the southeast; Entrance 
and New islets lay like black squares above the horizon to the south; and Whale 
Islet, close at hand, seemed like a tiny and exquisite painting plucked from a 
book of fairy tales. 

With a pang of regret that the happiness of this moment must give place to the 
humdrum monotony of life in the world of the flesh, I went forward and let go 
the anchor. The jangle of chain grated on my spirit as harshly as it grated on its 
hawsepipe. 



Chapter II 


“Tago! Where’s Tagi?” Captain Prospect growled, poking his head out of the 
companionway. “Takataka! Turn out that Palmerston Islander! Get all the gear 
out of Ropati’s canoe! He’ll want to go ashore and sleep, now that he’s brought 
my ship to anchor! Oli-Oli! Where’s that lazy Puka-Pukan? Where’s my tea? 
Why ain’t you got the water boiling? You’ve been asleep? Asleep! My knee!” 
The captain is always irritable before he has gulped his morning’s cup of tea. 

Tagi and Takataka helped us slide our sailing canoe into the water, the cowboys 
piled into it, I followed them, and we shoved off. Captain Prospect and his crew 
would come later, in their own canoe, for seafaring men seem to find a sort of 
satisfaction in remaining on their ship a few hours after she has reached her port, 
perhaps to taste the joys of shore life in anticipation as they let their eyes rove 
here and there. 

As we paddled through the shallows, alongside the stone wharf, hundreds of 
parrot fish finned past us with little spurts of fright, as though not knowing 
whether or not this strange, tailless, finless fish were an enemy. The wharf itself, 
we noticed, was broken where heavy seas must have bashed it. After pulling the 
canoe up the beach we moved inland along a weed-grown path to the clearing in 
the center of the island. The jungle of young coconuts, pemphis, and pandanus 
walled us in; it was so dense that we could scarcely hear the thunder of breakers 
on the fringing reef less than a quarter of a mile away—or perhaps the thunder 
was lost in the sustained clamor of sea birds roosting in the trees and circling 
overhead. The air was damp, and heavy with jungle smells; but now and then a 
breath of wind would eddy down to touch us lightly, then vanish, leaving us with 
a vague feeling that we had smelled the sea. 

The cowboys yelled their excitement. Within two minutes they had plunged into 
the jungle in search of sprouted coconuts, green drinking nuts, coconut crabs, 
and sea-bird fledglings. As for me, I moved through the early-morning gloom of 
this uninhabited place with a feeling of religious awe. I sensed that I was 
trespassing in a fairyland where only children are permitted to roam. The spell 
was complete until I came to the south side of the clearing and saw the 
galvanized-iron roof over the brick water tank, testifying that other mortals had 
dared break into this sanctuary. The bright unpainted iron stood out in pleasing 



contrast against the deeply shadowed green. 


I have mentioned the “clearing”—which formerly extended for two hundred 
yards down the center of Anchorage Island—but in truth it is a clearing now 
only in contrast with the heavy jungle surrounding it. There are thickets of spiny- 
leaved pandanus, nonu and tamanu saplings, a few clumps of bananas and 
mummy apples, breadfruit trees, young coconuts, all tangled with triumfetta 
vines, gardenia and fiscus bushes, and coarse atoll ferns. The only clear ground 
in the clearing is under five gigantic tamanu trees, which stand in a row about 
fifty yards from the tank. It was there that I found an old pearling cutter, 
paintless, mastless, its hull full of leaves and dead branches, and at one side of 
the tamanus I stumbled on the wreck of the old trading post, now scarcely more 
than a heap of rusty iron and rotten wood, but with part of one wall standing by 
virtue of the supporting jungle. The door still hung in its doorway, for the hinges 
were of bronze. 

I found the cowboys, and it was not long before we had kindled a fire, and not 
long thereafter before three coconut crabs and six fledglings were on the coals, 
sizzling and sputtering and filling the air with a savory odor. We made a meal of 
it, eating the food with our fingers, filling the odd corners with sprouted-coconut 
utos, and washing it all down with cool drinking-nut water. 

After the meal, a smoke, and a nap we built a wigwam of green coconut fronds 
in a little glade opening to the lagoon beach; and later we walked to the north 
point, where there is a deep hole on the edge of the shallows— Captain 
Prospect’s Spa—and plunged in to turn somersaults, stand on our heads, swim 
sharkwise and turtlewise, and in other ways enjoy ourselves after the manner of 
old men and children. 

And tonight, while writing these words by campfire and at times pausing to stare 
at the dim shape of Hurry Home riding at anchor, I have wondered if it is fair 
play to be so happy when the rest of the world is in tears. 

This afternoon Captain Prospect and I rummaged about the wreckage of the old 
trading post. We found some lumber good enough for the framework and floor 
of a temporary house, but all the iron roofing was rusted beyond further use — 
even to the captain’s sanguine eyes. For a long time he refused to admit it. He 
would squint at a rusty, torn, and bent piece of iron, nod his head, and, “Perhaps 
there’s a little life left in that piece,” he would venture. “What do you think, 



Ropati?” “It’s nothing but rust,” I would reply. “No, no,” the captain would then 
insist, and, leaning over, he would try to pull it out of the wreckage; but when it 
fell to pieces in his hands he would admit that, yes, it was somewhat damaged— 
damaged being from the Latin: Damn-a age-a—damned by age. 

We turned back to the clearing and inspected the twenty-foot pearling cutter. 

“Well, Ropati, you’ll have to admit that there’s still some life left in the old 
boat,” the captain said as he pulled dead tamanu branches out of her and started 
thumping her planks and picking the scales of paint from her sides. 

“Yes, she’s not beyond repair,” I admitted, and added that she might be useful, 
when the tourist resort was established, to take the big-game fishermen out to sea 
or the lady tourists to the jungle expeditions on Seven Islands. 

“Hm, yes,” the captain agreed, taking me seriously. “She’ll settle the inter¬ 
lagoon transportation problem.... I’ll put Oli-Oli to work on her right away. I’ll 
have him replace those rotten frames and those floors and knees. And that 
plank,” he added, kicking it and then pulling his foot out of the hole he had 
made, “yes, that plank will have to be renewed; and I think she’d better have a 
new stem and a sternpost too. The keel may be sound, but if it’s not, then Oli-Oli 
can cut a new keel from one of these big tamanu trees.” He stopped abruptly, 
grinned waggishly, and then told me that the chain plates, being bronze, were in 
good shape, so at worst Oli-Oli would simply have to build a new boat between 
them. 

A few moments later we turned to the tamanu trees, standing in a row, close 
together, on the north side of the clearing. Each was as big as an English oak, 
had the same dark, glossy leaves and gnarled limbs. Because they leaned at 
about forty-five degrees to the west, Captain Prospect found them easy to climb. 
In a moment he had clambered up one of them to where it forked twenty feet 
from the ground, and had perched birdlike on one of the smaller limbs. I of 
course followed, somewhat bewildered and with a lively sense of the 
unconventionality of climbing trees with a gray-haired skipper. I hoped First 
Mate Tagi-would not see us. 

“Nice place to build a house,” the captain opined, producing his calabash pipe 
and lighting it. Then, as he blew a series of smoke rings and sighed with the 
satisfaction that only tobacco and weak tea bring him, he pointed out the vistas 



of reef and sea to the east and the lagoon to the west, interposed by the boles of 
coconut trees that rose above the jungle; and he called my attention to the light 
drafts of wind; and finally he told me that, in a little house in these trees, a man 
would be as safe in a hurricane as he would be aboard Hurry Home. 

“That’s right,” I replied. “I’m going to build a house up here. I’m going to live in 
a tree, like Swiss Family Robinson.” 

“I remember that book; it was by Nat Gould,” the captain informed me; then he 
offered me my pick of the old trading-post lumber to build the house. 

I had not thought of such a house until that moment, but, sitting in the tree with 
the captain, I at once realized how easily it could be built. There was another tree 
within eight feet of the one we were sitting in, and there were forks on it at about 
the same height. I visualized a beam stretched from this tree to that one, another 
yonder, a post here and a brace there. In a moment the house was snugly nested 
in a great mass of foliage, a ladder led to the ground, and I myself was stretched 
out on a bunk by a big open window, feeling the wind on my bare chest as I 
stared dreamily across the jungle to the passage, the reef, the open sea, the 
vagrant clouds. 

“I am quite serious,” I said when we had climbed down the tree and were 
studying the house site from ground level. “I’ll go to work on it right away.” 

I was enthusiastic. It was not until later in the day that I decided to work 
leisurely on the house, timing the construction so it would be half finished when 
Hurry Home sailed back to Nassau to discharge her cargo. The half-finished 
house would give me an excuse for remaining here with the cowboys until 
Prospect returned. 

I woke this morning at 4 A.M., well before the first sign of dawn and because I 
was thoroughly refreshed I went about cooking breakfast at once. It amounted 
only to kindling the fire, putting on the teakettle, and breaking out a dozen ship’s 
biscuits and a tin of jam. When the tea had been brewed and I had sipped a few 
spoonfuls I called the cowboys, gave them their bread and jam, and sent them to 
the basket of drinking nuts for the rest of their breakfast. 

It was a skimpy meal, and that is why we got thinking about wide-awake eggs 
and decided, before we had finished our biscuits and jam, to go to Whale Islet 
and the Bird Cays. There would be time before the tide came in, we 



miscalculated, to walk to the cays and back. 


We rummaged about until we found some frond baskets for the eggs and some 
two-pound beef tins for testing their freshness. There was still no sign of dawn 
when we moved down the path to the lagoon beach and followed it to the north 
point; but when we were tramping along the reef shallows, now bone dry, we 
became aware of the first candlelight of dawn like a little cloud of mist flung up 
from the reef spray. 

The coral on the inner side of the reef was smooth walking even for the littlest 
daughter, who trailed along behind the others, swinging her frond basket and 
piping a songlet as pretty and simple as herself. Johnny and Jakey ran hither and 
thither, chasing fish in the crevices and pools or yelling with mock terror when 
they spotted a conger eel. Elaine stayed close to the boss of the outfit, as she 
always does. 

“Papa-look!” she cried abruptly, pulling my arm and at the same time pointing to 
tiny Whale Islet, now behind us. “It is like the island in the funny paper—the 
little island in the middle of the ocean, with only two or three trees and a man 
and a woman and a raft.” 

We stopped at a reef pool to fill our beef tins with salt water, and then we spread 
over the cays, rousing the birds from their nests. Bedlam broke loose. The birds 
rose, wheeled, banked, dove in confusion worse confounded. Their clamor 
seemed a palpable substance, filling the air and our very bodies as well. Their 
excitement was contagious. The cowboys dashed this way and that, their eyes 
flashing, their little throats screaming a close second to the pandemonium of the 
birds. 

I tried to keep my wits and gather a few eggs, but I soon found that most of them 
on the Bird Cays were far advanced in incubation. Picking up a fresh-looking 
egg, I would drop it in my tin of water. If it lay on its side in the bottom of the tin 
it was fresh, if it stood an one end it had started to incubate, and if it floated the 
incubation was far advanced. By the time we had reached the last cay I had 
found only a dozen or so fresh eggs, and a dozen or so eggs are only an appetizer 
for my family. We needed several hundred, both for ourselves and for the crew 
of Hurry Home, each one of whom would think nothing of putting away five 
dozen eggs at a single meal. 



We decided to move on, a mile farther along the reef to Brushwood Islet. The 
tide was low, and, miscalculating a second time, we believed we could make it to 
Brushwood and back to Anchorage Island before the reef was flooded. So we 
left our basket of eggs on the last cay and struck out to the edge of the barrier 
reef, where it was dry walking save for an occasional sea that washed languidly 
past our ankles. In the shallow pools we could see, when the foam had cleared 
away, scores of bright-blue parrot fish and brown-mottled reef cod. We could 
have picked them up with our hands. There were lobsters too, but we could see 
only their long feelers thrust out from holes in the coral. 

When we were opposite the south point of Brushwood we left the reef to wade to 
the beach through a channel two feet deep and a hundred yards across. We might 
have noticed then that the tide was flowing, but our brains were so excited by the 
wild scene before us that we were scarcely aware of the current flowing 
alongshore toward the lagoon; nor did we give more than a passing glance at the 
sharks that circled round us and sometimes charged for our legs only to stop 
suddenly when a few feet away and then, perhaps seeing our bodies above the 
water, charge away faster than they had come. One big shark, hungrier than the 
others, brushed my leg with his tail. 

On a quiet day, far from the screaming birds and the roar of breakers, the sharks 
might have put us in a blue funk; but today we felt as reckless as the sharks 
themselves. We felt like kicking them or, as Jakey often says, eating them alive 
—and all because of the contagious excitement about us. If there were tens of 
thousands of birds on the cays there were hundreds of thousands here. The sky 
was so thick with them that in places they cast a solid shadow. In each pemphis 
bush squatted row on row of long-faced boobies, owl-eyed, serious and 
professorial in their bearing, with rings around their eyes like the rims of 
spectacles; and row on row of frigate birds, glossy black, with wattles as big and 
red as a turkey’s, eyes red and utterly cruel, birds as emblematic of evil as the 
raven. They eyed us with a sort of calculating detachment, with cold objectivity, 
snobbishly. Sometimes, when we approached, they would rise clumsily to coast 
down-wind a few yards to the next bush; at other times they seemed to defy us. 
But when Jakey knocked one from his perch his expression changed suddenly 
from contempt to righteous indignation. 

He squawked in remonstrance; he flapped this way and that as gracelessly as a 
tumbling pigeon; then he soared away, while from Elaine, the humorist of the 
family, came squeals of unsympathetic laughter. 



Perhaps we were the first humans these birds had seen; perhaps a few of them 
had looked down to the decks of ships to observe incuriously the wingless bugs 
that poked their heads from holes, turned wheels, squawked some unknown 
tongue, and smoked pipes. 

Fresh wide-awake eggs were everywhere, on an average of about four to each 
square foot of sand. We had to walk with care to avoid trampling them. We 
bagged ten noddy-tern fledglings and five boobies, filled our baskets with eggs, 
and then inspected the Turtle. We had seen her from afar, stranded on the reef 
that fringes the lagoon side of Brushwood, dragging her three hundred pounds, at 
the rate of about a foot a minute, toward the lagoon. Such a turtle on PukaPuka 
would have fed the entire island; and Elaine must have been thinking something 
of the kind, for she shook her head regretfully and told me that a lot of good 
turtle soup was going to waste. Then she forgot her preoccupation in food, for 
Johnny and Jakey had mounted the creature, Nga was squealing for a ride, and 
Elaine was not going to let any cowboy outdo her. We wasted a good ten minutes 
while the cowboys rode their bronco ten feet along the fringing reef; then, 
thinking for the first time of the tide, we hurried back to the south point. 

The channel was flooded three feet deep! That was bad. To be marooned on 
Brushwood, where there was no water, during a tide would be uncomfortable 
indeed. Water suggested rain. We glanced to windward to see a black squall 
bearing down on us. Well, we studied the mile of open reef to the Bird Cays and 
decided we could make it. I took Elaine and Nga on my shoulders, slung the 
baskets of eggs and the birds over my arms and neck, and with Johnny and Jakey 
clinging to me we started across. 

Though there were no sharks in the channel I felt something akin to panic until 
we had made the reef. Here in the South Seas we are convinced that sharks will 
attack a man carrying fish or sea birds but will not molest him otherwise. This 
may be no more than one of our superstitions, but because I believe it my knees 
were “unstrung.” Had a shark charged us I should not have had the strength to 
kick him, and I doubt if the fierce Jakey would have thought seriously of eating 
him alive. In fact we wasted no time plowing through the deep water and 
climbing on the reef, where, the water being only knee-deep, I let Elaine and 
Nga walk. We splashed along in grand style for half a mile; then the seas became 
higher or the reef lower, for more and more often big combers surged past us, 
and I had to brace myself while the cowboys, holding to my hands and belt, were 
flung away from me like streamers in the wind. One big wave actually did wash 



us into the shallows; but we scrambled back to the reef, and it was then that we 
threw away our birds. We kept the baskets of eggs. 


The last stretch was very bad indeed, for we had to leave the reef and all but 
swim through a channel to the first sand cay; and it was then that the big squall 
roared down on us. The rain seemed almost as solid as the water we waded 
through. With Elaine and Nga on my shoulders again, Johnny and Jakey holding 
to my belt and each swimming with one hand, the baskets of eggs slung around 
my neck and over my arms, I put my back to the squall and plowed through the 
swiftly flowing water to the first cay. There we retrieved the other basket of eggs 
and then skirted along the lee side of the cays to Whale Islet, making it just as 
the last of the squall was pelting us. Another squall was humping its back over 
the horizon to windward; a single glance at the reef between Whale Islet and 
Anchorage Island convinced me that we could not reach home until the tide had 
ebbed, so we broke inland, found a good place for a shelter, and proceeded to 
make a lean-to of coconut fronds. It was finished in half an hour-in time to 
huddle under it while the next squall yelped in the fronds and spattered the islet 
with rain. After the squall we decided that food and drink were indicated. 

My matches were soaking wet, but that did not deter us. We found a guettarda 
stick, whittled away its wet outer wood, and used it for a hearth log. A pemphis 
stick furnished a fire-plow, and the old man furnished the power to plow a little 
pile of smoldering wood dust out of the log. The wood dust was dumped on a 
segment of dry coconut husk and blown to a blaze; coconut spathes and pemphis 
twigs were piled on top until we had a roaring fire. 

Then we built another fire, in a shallow pit, and piled lumps of coral on it. While 
the coral was heating we gathered the big unfluted leaves of sprouted coconuts 
and wrapped five dozen eggs in them. These we laid on the hot stones, when the 
fire had died down, and covered them with leaves and sand. 

Jakey gathered a number of drinking nuts while the rest of us hunted for utos, 
and when that part of the meal was laid out on Suvarrow’s willow-pattern dishes 
the eggs were cooked. 

It was raining again, but we didn’t give a whoop. The old man had had a smoke, 
we each had drunk a few coconuts, and we were protected from the rain in a 
fairly tight makeshift house. So we feasted in the Homeric manner; the old man 
had another smoke, and the cowboys took a few puffs to show they were hard- 



boiled. By that time it was late afternoon. We rolled down to the beach, saw that 
the reef was drying, returned for our baskets of eggs, and rolled happily home. 

The bathing pool on the north point of Anchorage Island lies in the hard coral 
conglomerate of which the point is formed. It is a miniature bay. The entrance to 
the bay is only a foot deep at low water, but the pool itself has a good four feet of 
water, is round, about sixteen feet across, and has a bottom of smooth yellow 
coral. On a sunny day it is warm almost to hotness. Just beyond the mouth of the 
pool is a channel two feet deep and twenty wide, leading from a depression in 
the barrier reef across the shallows to the lagoon. Because the water in the 
channel flows swiftly from the sea it is always cool. 

At low tide this Sunday afternoon Captain Prospect, the cowboys, and I followed 
the lagoon beach to the north point, there to stew in the hot pool and shiver in the 
cold stream while betimes we discussed this and that from the Latin roots of 
obscure words to the works of Nat Gould. Presently the cowboys, fed up with 
our erudition, went chasing fish in the shallows; and presently the captain started 
talking about his scheme to start a tourist resort on lonely Suvarrow. 

“I can just see them, Ropati!” he exclaimed after he had warmed to his subject in 
exact ratio to the warmth imparted to his skinny body by the hot water in the 
pool. “Just use your imagination. Picture poor sun-hungry people from New 
Zealand and England and the States in this natural-ah-spa! Picture society ladies 
sitting under beach umbrellas up there on the high coral by the fresh-water pools, 
watching their children romp about the reef —just like yours are romping now— 
and all the rheumatics and lungers sweating themselves into health, here in the 
pool! I don’t doubt for a minute but what they’ll pay me a bob an hour just to let 
them bathe here!” 

At this point I suggested that we wallow through the shallow entrance to the cold 
stream, which we did. As I had expected, the cold water chilled the captain’s 
dream. He reduced the admittance fee from a bob to a tanner, and then, as his 
teeth started to chatter, he magnanimously opened the pool to his invalids free of 
charge, but made a nominal charge of sixpence for tea served under the beach 
umbrellas. I asked him what kind of a joint he proposed putting up on Suvarrow, 

“I don’t propose putting up any joint at all,” the captain spat at me. “I propose 
establishing a high-toned health resort. First of all I’ll build six cabins in the hold 
of my ship. That’ll settle the transportation problem. Then I’ll have Tagi and 



Takataka clear about five acres right down the center of Anchorage Island, and 
I’ll have Oli-Oli build a dozen or so little native huts for the guests and one big 
house that’ll be both a dining room and a clubhouse. There I’ll put my radio and 
rig up a windmill affair for charging the batteries—and that’ll pretty well settle 
the amusement problem. The young people will dance to radio music, and the 
older ones will listen to the news and the stockmarket quotations... . But there’ll 
be other amusements: draughts, chess, and cribbage; big-game fishing, jungle 
expeditions, and historic monuments; tennis, ping-pong, and golf; and for 
highbrow blighters like you I’ll have a bookshelf with the complete works of Nat 
Gould.” 

At that he rolled over, got a handhold and a foothold and, after raising the part of 
his anatomy covered by his pink bathing trunks, he straightened up to haul his 
bony self back to the warm pool. I followed. 

“Golf, Ropati, golf!” he exclaimed when he had again stretched out, this time 
with his head on a shelf of coral. “Use your imagination, man! Can’t you see that 
Suvarrow has the finest natural golf course in the world? My God, man! The 
place is simply crying out for someone to exploit it! Let me put my sailors to 
work for one week and I’ll have a golf course that will attract players from the 
four comers of the world! 

“Listen,” he continued, his voice rising as his scheme unfolded, his arms 
working in violent and yet more violent gesticulations. “Listen, now: the first 
green right here on Anchorage Island, with a little clubhouse where the players 
can buy spare balls at a moderate profit to me of about twentyfive per cent. From 
the first green they drive down the reef shallows, at low tide, to the second green 
on Whale Islet. What a fairway! just look at it, Ropati! Use your imagination! 
Bone dry and almost as smooth as a billiard table! Well, from Whale Islet 
there’ll be the Bird Cay Hazard and then the third green on Brushwood, the 
Water Hazard from Brushwood to Green IV on One Tree, and then a straight 
fairway across the channel to Turtle Islet—Green No. V. 

“The tide will be coming in by the time they reach Green No. V,” the captain 
continued, his excitement increasing alarmingly, “so all the twosomes and 
foursomes, the spectators, and the caddies will rest on Turtle Islet for a few hours 
and refresh themselves with tea and cakes at, say, one and sixpence a player. I’ll 
have Oli-Oli established permanently on Turtle Islet to serve refreshments!” 



“Yes, yes, Captain!” I cried, noting that his eyes were becoming fixed in a glassy 
stare, but aware that he was drunk only on the wind of optimism; that he was 
seeing files of twosomes and foursomes, in plus fours, caps, and brogues, 
tramping the reef to Turtle Islet, while caddies dashed this way and that, while 
golf balls soared o’erhead, winging the wide-awakes; that he was seeing hungry 
players lined at the resthouse—sixpence extra for jam with your cakes... . 

“Next low tide,” the captain continued, “they’ll drive down to the sixth green on 
Bird Islet, then Greens VII and VIII on the Tou Group, where there’ll be a 
resthouse for them for the night. But early the next morning they’ll be playing 
again, driving along the fairway to Green IX on the Buckland Cays, Green X on 
New Islet, Green XI on Tirel Cay, Green XII on Entrance Island, and Greens 
XIII and XIV on Seven Islands, where again they’ll take tea and cakes while the 
tide is high. But when the shallows dry they’ll be off again, on the home stretch 
now, driving to the last three greens, on the Gull Group ... and then, Ropati! and 
then—think of it— the Passage Hazard! The greatest obstacle ever encountered 
by a golfer! Only the longest drive will clear the Great Passage Hazard! It will 
be unique! Just imagine a golf ball soaring skyward from the Gull Group, 
describing a parabola high above the shouting seas on the barrier reef, high 
above the passage itself, to land squarely on the Home Green on Anchorage 
Island!” 

“Making,” I screamed, “a hole in one! ... Quick, Captain, quick! Jump in the 
cold stream!” 

But Captain Prospect caught my implied meaning. His frenzy slipped off him; he 
eyed me sourly, snarled something about my unimaginative plebeian brain, 
hauled his bony self out of the water, and returned in high dudgeon to the 
clearing. 

Takataka has finished the little native shack by the water tank. It is about ten feet 
wide by sixteen long, with a frond roof, open sides, and a board floor: a good- 
enough place to crawl into when it rains—and what more does a man want with 
a house in the tropics? 

Oli-Oli is progressing famously with the pearling cutter. He finds that it is in 
better shape than we had thought. Apparently the plank that the captain kicked 
his toe through was the only rotten one in the boat. We have moved the cutter to 
the south side of the tank, at the end of the path leading to the lagoon. The 



captain has decided not to launch her until he returns from Nassau and Manihiki. 


I have laid the floor of my treehouse. Captain Prospect is delighted—and at the 
same time exasperated because the work progresses so slowly. He tells me that 
as soon as he returns from Nassau he will put all three sailors to work on his 
Arboreal Villa. There will be the Aerie, the Nest, the Roost, the Hermitage, the 
Monkey House, the Rookery; and others later, when, I more than half believe, he 
can think of names for them. There will be footbridges from Aerie to Roost to 
Monkey House, ladders to the ground, dumb-waiters for hauling up one’s tea and 
cakes, spyglasses for watching the golf tournaments on the barrier reef. 

Tagi has been working on Hurry Home, puttering about every morning until 
about nine o’clock, when, the pangs of hunger telling him that another meal will 
soon be indicated, he gets out his fishline, baits his hook with hermit crabs, 
drops it over the side, and in no time catches enough fish for all of us. 

This morning the captain and I went aboard with Tagi, not giving him time to 
hunt for hermit-crab bait. “Maybe he’ll get the standing rigging set up,” Captain 
Prospect growled as we paddled out to the ship, “now that he can’t fish.” 

With the three of us aboard it seemed that the work actually might be done, but 
alas! the flesh is frail. Within a half hour the captain had lost interest; within 
thirty-five minutes he had left the job to Tagi and had lured me into his cabin for 
a rubber of cribbage. 

After winning two games the captain’s stony heart softened. “We might as well 
let Tagi catch a few fish for lunch,” he said. “I don’t believe in being too hard on 
sailors ... and anyway, he’ll be expecting bully beef if there’s no fish.” 

“Bully beef is three bob a tin now.” 

“Yes, it’s exorbitant.” 

“Exorbitant—orbitas: that’s from the Latin, isn’t it?” 

“I doubt it,” said the captain sourly, then he poked his head out of the hatchway 
and called for Tagi. “You can lay off now, if you want, and catch some fish,” he 
said when the mate had come aft. 

“I got no bait,” Tagi replied, both peeved and vindictive. 



“Bait—my knee! Whoever heard of a sailor up against it for bait?” He scowled, 
let his eyes dart this way and that, and, “Here’s some prunes,” he suggested, 
picking one from the rubbish at the back of the table. 

But Tagi would have none of the prunes, so the captain got out his queer fishing 
tackle consisting of a big clumsy hook, a length of seizing wire, and a few 
fathoms of sennit. He jabbed a prune on the hook, took the outfit on deck, 
dropped the hook over the side, and pulled up a red schnapper. Then, highly 
pleased with himself, he gave the fish to Tagi, for—bait, and, turning to me, 
offered to shout me a cup of weak tea if I would kindle the fire. 

“No one would believe it,” he told me later, “if you said you caught fish with 
prunes.” Then, with the light of an idea in his eyes, he went on: “When my 
tourist resort is established I’ll put a big sign down on the wharf: FISHING 
EXCURSIONS. YOUR MONEY BACK IF YOU DON’T CATCH A FISH... . 
That’ll get 'em!” he affirmed. “Two bob an hour, with hooks and lines thrown 
in.” 

Hurry Home sailed at noon; the cowboys and I have been left on Suvarrow until 
Captain Prospect returns, in two or three months, from Nassau and Manihiki. We 
have been marooned by request, as the captain put it. Perhaps the half-finished 
treehouse influenced his decision to leave us, as well as our offer to clear away 
the wreckage of the old trading post and cut a trail to the outer beach. 

I went aboard early this morning to buy a few provisions and take ashore some 
odds and ends of personal gear; but when it came to my case of books, weighing 
fully two hundred pounds, I decided to leave it aboard for ballast. I had reading 
matter enough ashore anyway, with Montaigne, Lamb, Spengler, The Friendly 
Arctic, The Columbia Encyclopedia, and a few other books. 

After we had carried our provisions from the beach to the clearing we sat on the 
end of the wharf and watched Hurry Home drag herself away from the 
anchorage. We went through the convention of waving, then we crossed the 
island to its east side, where we sat under a bush; and after an interminable time 
we saw Hurry Home nose her head around the south point and flounder into the 
passage. There she seemed to take wing like T. S. Eliot’s hippopotamus. Resting 
her belly in the current, she seemed for a little time firm enough; but “flesh and 
blood is weak and frail, susceptible to nervous shock,” we recited as the ebbing 
tide caught her and rushed her down the passage at a good five knots—at twice 



the speed she makes in a gale of wind with all her sails drawing! She struck the 
nasty tide rip; the wind fell light in the lee of the land; twice she was turned 
completely around, then she was laid squarely in the trough, rendered helpless, 
and given such a rolling that we could scarcely ascertain whether she was belly 
up or back up to the sky. 

Poor old Captain Prospect and his crew must have been in a blue funk. We could 
all but hear their yells as each one of them, from the cook to the skipper, took 
charge at once, and each one yelled orders that were heard by only himself. The 
sails thrashed back and forth. First one rail was under water, then the other. The 
current swung her head to the sea and she buried her bows under, then her stern 
to the sea, and a nasty chop crashed down on her tin-trunk stove and her w.c. 

And when she had been bashed this way and that for a quarter of an hour she 
was swept within yards of the point of reef on the west side of the entrance, 
where the seas humped their backs before crashing down on the barrier reef. 
Apparently all hope was gone; her crew were doomed to feed the voracious 
sharks or be bashed to death on the jagged coral, when ... 

The cowboys were whooping now. Jakey and Nga had dashed down to the 
beach; Johnny sat by me, gripping my arm; Elaine was crying; and I—for the 
life of me I could feel no proper horror or even concern. The ‘potamus was about 
to take wing, I reflected. 

“And him shall heavenly arms enfold, Among the saints he shall be seen 
Performing on a harp of gold—” 

My quotation was broken off suddenly. Johnny relaxed; Elaine stopped crying; 
Jakey and Nga stopped whooping. With a leer of irony—or perhaps with dismay 
at the thought of the hippopotamus performing on a harp of gold— Poseidon, 
girdler of the earth, sent a puff of wind into Hurry Home’s sails and literally 
pushed her sideways out of danger. 

Then we ashore watched Captain Prospect’s “hollow ship” get snappily under 
way. She showed her scabby bum to the barrier reef; up went her staysail, the 
tack where the peak should be; and away raged Hurry Home “over the wet ways 
of the teeming sea” at a good two knots if not a two-point-five. She was a mile 
off when the cowboys glanced over their shoulders in a meaningful way, then 
rose, and led me back to the clearing and the cookhouse. 



Chapter III 


Tea this morning at half-past four, ship’s biscuits, and three dozen wide-awake 
eggs between the five of us; then we went to work in earnest on the treehouse. 
Jakey worked as steadily as a boy can, salvaging galvanized nails from the 
wreckage of the trading post; Johnny plaited roofing sheets from green coconut 
fronds; Elaine and Nga bossed the job when they were not minding their babies 
—that is, their long, slim, undeveloped coconuts wrapped in rags and tags. 

Now that Hurry Home has left there has been no excuse for delaying the work. 
The sun had scarcely risen before I had cut a score or two of green nonu 
saplings, strong, tough, and flexible. These made window sills, rafters, and 
ridgepole. By noon the framework was complete; then Johnny and I cooked a 
pot of rice, opened a tin of bully beef, and we made a meal of it, polishing off 
with a couple of green coconuts each. This afternoon I helped Johnny with the 
roofing sheets while Jakey went to the reef with his spear. By the time Jakey 
returned with enough fish for all of us Johnny and I had finished the forty sheets 
needed for the roof. For the evening meal we boiled some unleavened dumplings 
made from grated coconut and flour, grilled our fish on pemphis-wood coals, and 
brewed ourselves a cup of tea. Then, there being a moon three quarters full, we 
went to work lashing the sheets on one side of the roof and finished the job by 8 
p.m. 

The little house has a fascinating look by moonlight. I can scarcely keep my eyes 
off it. I shall sneak away from the children and sleep in the little monkey nest up 
the tree. 

We put the rest of the roof on the house yesterday morning, then plaited coconut 
fronds on the sides, and finished the job by night. These plaited fronds give both 
a beautiful effect and a raintight shelter. Today Johnny made two big blinds, six 
feet by thirty inches, for the two windows, and I hung them on the lintels so they 
could be raised or lowered. Also I made a bunk on the east side of the house, and 
I am lying on it at this moment. By turning my eyes to the right I can look over 
the undergrowth and see, between the boles of coconut trees, vistas of the 
passage, the east reef, and the Gull Group beyond. The trade wind blows fresh 
and fragrant through the house. In a half hour, when it is dark, I will see the 
moon over the far islets, splashing mild yellow light on the fierce tide rip that 



will then be flowing out the passage. 


I have made a writing table from the south end of the bunk across the house to 
its west side. A kerosene case with a back nailed to it serves for a chair. My mat, 
pillow, and quilt are on the bunk, and under it are the children’s sleeping things, 
while on the table are my typewriter, dictionary, thesaurus, encylopedia, a half- 
finished novel, and numerous papers. Under the table is a little chest with papers, 
ribbons, letters, and odds and ends. Also there is a shelf by my head, and on it 
smoking paraphernalia, Lamb’s Letters, Montaigne’s Essays, Spengler’s Decline, 
Stefansson’s Friendly Arctic, and a few volumes of lighter reading. 

Only one thing troubles me: there is a tall coconut tree leaning over my house, 
with its head above the tamanu trees and therefore above the roof. The tree is 
loaded with coconuts, and I have been wondering if one might fall, go through 
the roof, and land on me! Probably not, for the rafters are a foot apart and the 
roofing sheets close together. However, it is a troubling thought, so tomorrow 
morning I shall send Jakey up the tree to throw down the nuts. Incidentally, 

Jakey, though not too hot at the three Rs, is a number-one hand at climbing trees. 

It is late twilight. I can see the moon, just below the eaves and hedged on two 
sides by coconut fronds. The roar of seas on the barrier reef comes loudly above 
the jungle; its thunder mingles with the sustained metallic tinkle of coconut 
fronds and comes to me as the peculiar voice of the spirit of place. The trade 
wind brings me the spirit’s smell, but it is too subtle to evoke through the 
medium of words. Perhaps there is a tang of the salty sea spray, perhaps a spicy 
trace of the sea weed washed up on the beach, and perhaps a drop of the 
essential oil of pandanus flowers and those of the cordia, tamanu, coconut. 

I wonder if, animal-like, most people identify places and things by their odor? If 
I read or think or hear the name Papeete no vision comes to my mental eye of a 
red-roofed cathedral or a market place, nor does there come to my mental ear the 
strumming of guitars or the babel of Chinese traders; but to my mental nostrils 
comes an undefinable smell, and instantly I identify the word Papeete with the 
smell. 

This is a night of luxury. Not even the whoops of the cowboys jar my nerves, for 
they are on the end of the wharf fishing. My body feels strong and well and 
sensuously happy, and yet I feel my body to be something extraneous to my real 
self. I look down on my body, naked, brown as a Polynesian, functioning as 



perfectly as a finely geared machine, giving me pleasure and yet being another 
person than the Ropati that writes this entry. My body seems like a servant. My 
fingers are not I, but my sense of touch is; nor are my nostrils, my eyes, my ears, 
my palate the “I” that lives on Suvarrow with four children, but my senses of 
smell, sight, hearing, taste I identify with myself. These organs are instruments 
that I have acquired to keep me in touch with the external world. It seems—at 
this moment, at least—silly to believe the eyes can see, the ears hear: they are 
only instruments of precision with which I can see and hear. Would you say a 
binocular can observe a ship, a telephone can carry on a conversation? The 
binocular is an extension of the eye, the telephone an extension of the ear; and 
the eye and the ear are extensions of the mind of man. At least so it seems to me 
tonight. 

Primitive men do not differentiate so nicely. Tell a Puka-Pukan that the palate 
experiences no pleasure from a particular taste but is simply an apparatus for 
transmitting certain impressions to the brain, which in turn translates these 
impressions into a language that the mind delights in, and the Puka-Pukan will 
think you mad. To him his body is the whole man, and this, perhaps, is the 
reason he is so assiduous in his attention to the dead. 

Oh well, by thinking back I find that I was discussing luxury .... 

Tonight I feel that a cup of tea and a cigarette, and perhaps afterward an essay by 
M. Michel de Montaigne, would give me physical and spiritual pleasure more 
exquisite than I have ever known; for it is not the quality or the quantity of the 
good things of life that gives us pleasure, but it is our capacity to enjoy them. 
This afternoon, when I had finished the bunk and laid the sleeping things 
thereon, I determined, with a feeling of guilt, that I would relax for fully fifteen 
minutes. I looked at the ship’s clock, which is on the east wall with the 
barometer, noted the time, lay back on the bunk, and relaxed save for my fingers, 
which rolled a pinch of tobacco in a pandanus leaf. I lit the cigarette, smoked 
slowly, inhaled deeply, breathed out the smoke through my nose, tasted the 
fragrant leaf, watched the wind carry the smoke away, and delighted in the 
mingled intoxication of tobacco and the sensuous pleasure that comes from 
feeling the wind blow over one’s bare body. Only once was the complete 
“ataraxy” dispelled, and that was when I felt a sense of guilt at being so happy. It 
seemed to me that I was escaping a certain undefined duty to be miserable. Then, 
“Away with morality!” I cried. “I shall be a Heliogabalus! I shall be a 
remorseless sinner wallowing in the sensuous pleasure of a cigarette!” And so I 



did; and so it is that I now conclude that there is as much pleasure to be derived 
from insignificant pastimes as from the dissipations of a Trimalchio. 

I am becoming long-winded and trite. One feels the need of prattle when living 
alone on a haunted island, and triteness is inevitable since Montaigne left no 
unharvested fields of thought for coming generations to reap .... Oh well, by the 
unholy row some twenty feet below me I conclude that four cowboys have 
returned with a string of fish and that they intend, without pain of conscience, to 
do some gargantuan guttling before they turn in to sleep the sound sleep of the 
well-fed. 

We had a grand time on the reef this morning and a grand bird snaring this 
afternoon. The tide was low in the forenoon and the reef dry. Johnny and Jakey 
had short fish spears made of six-inch spikes seized on four-foot nonu poles; 
Elaine and Nga had frond baskets for periwinkles; the Boss of Suvarrow had his 
heavy singleprong spear. Thus equipped, we walked to the north point, across 
the shallows, to the reef. 

Every island has a reef peculiar to itself. On some the coral is so jagged, the 
crevices so wide and deep, that it is difficult to walk them even at low tide; but 
Suvarrow’s reef is as smooth as a fairway. There would be no great difficulty in 
driving a golf ball from Anchorage Island the four miles to Turtle Islet. The 
combers break from thirty to forty feet to seaward of the highest part of the reef, 
and only the big ones lap over the reef shelf into the shallows. 

“Captain Prospect’s scheme is within the bounds of possibility,” I reflected as I 
tramped toward Whale Islet. “The only difficulty would be in getting the 
golfers.” Then, of course, I thought of the Arboreal Villa, jungle Excursions, the 
Spa and the Beach Umbrellas—until abruptly my attention was turned to a big 
parrot fish who, ostrich-like, had poked his head in a hole to leave three quarters 
of his body outside. I pulled him out, dropped him in my bag, and moved on. 

There was little sport in spearing fish, for they were too plentiful. We did not 
have to hurl our spears like Achaean warriors in Ilion, and see them describe 
perfect parabolas before transfixing the fish. When we spied a big parrot fish or 
a reef cod in one of the pools, half hidden under a ledge of coral, we simply 
poked our spear in him, then flipped him up on the dry coral. 


Jakey and Johnny soon tired of this. Sticking their spears in holes in the coral, 



where they could be retrieved later, they chased triggerfish and butterfly fish 
about the shallows until the gorgeous creatures took refuge under coral boulders, 
in holes and crevices. Then the children would reach in and pull the creatures 
out. Often the triggerfish would be hard to get out, and then, more than once, the 
little savages would duck their heads down and pull them out with their teeth! 
They killed them with their teeth too. This was a specialized business. The two 
older cowboys knew enough to hold the fish laterally and bite down on the back 
of their heads; but poor little Elaine, lacking in experience, thrust a triggerfish 
head first in her mouth and bit down. The fish retaliated by biting Elaine’s 
tongue! Poor cowboy! She always makes a great to-do about her pains. Today 
her screams broke up the excursion for five minutes, while the old man 
comforted her and the rest of the cowboys suppressed their giggles as best they 
could. Elaine, however, has a sense of humor. She soon sees the comic side of 
her troubles —particularly so when the old man is comforting her. 

“Poor Elaine! Cry, Elaine!” I said soothingly today as betimes I petted her and 
held her tightly. “Cry as loud as you can. It will do you good. Poor little cowboy! 
Abig fish bit her tongue! Johnny, come here! Jakey! Nga! Don’t you feel sorry 
for your sister? She got her tongue bit by a big fish!” 

Presently I felt a slight convulsion in her fat little body and knew she was 
struggling to hold back a laugh. I insisted that she cry louder, as loudly as she 
could—like this—and I let out an awful yell. Elaine joined me, but ended the 
yell with a burst of laughter. The incident was closed. I placed her on the reef, 
noting that her eyes were still streaming though she was chording with laughter. 
Probably her tongue still pained her, but, as I have said, she has a sense of 
humor. She’ll probably turn out to be a very fat woman. 

The quiet, gentle, diffident little Nga, the spiritual counterpart of her mother, 
nosed about the reef crevices and potholes like a mouse, sniffing here and there, 
poking her little paw into a hole to pick out a periwinkle or a cowrie shell, never 
screaming or showing any excitement, perfectly self-contained. Presently she 
showed me her basket full of shellfish and smiled in a way that said: “There you 
are, Papa. I don’t make as much noise over my fishing as the rest of the cowboys 
do, but I bring home the bacon.” 

After climbing up the beach of the tiny storybook islet we inspected the lean-to 
we had built while Hurry Home was here. Elaine and Nga found a ghost-tern 
fledgling on a low limb of a tournefortia bush, and of course they fell in love 



with it—who wouldn’t? It looked like a fuzzy little ball of cotton wool with two 
red eyes and a black beak, and, to the delight of the cowboys, it opened its 
mouth to exhibit an amazingly large gullet. Jakey climbed a coconut tree to 
throw down nuts for all of us, and after we had refreshed ourselves with food 
and water we proceeded to the Bird Cays—the same cays where we had 
gathered eggs a month before. 

Now the eggs were all hatched, while under the bushes were thousands of wide¬ 
awake fledglings. So far as I know they are the only young sea birds that are 
agile on their legs; other sea birds can scarcely walk, and their fledglings can no 
more than push themselves across the sand. Wide-awakes scamper over the cays, 
in flocks of several hundred, precisely like baby barnyard chicks. They make a 
peeping noise, and, though I have not seen them scratch, they remind me of the 
speckled chicks of a Plymouth Rock hen. When watching them this morning, 
sometimes in flocks a thousand strong, scattering from one cay to the next, as 
identical as machine-made cigarettes, I marveled that the mother birds can find 
their fledglings. 

The tide started to come in while we were on the cays, so we hurried back to 
Whale Islet, and from there waded to the inner edge of the reef, both because it 
was the shallowest place and because we had to retrieve Johnny’s and Jakey’s 
fish spears. 

“There’s a shark!” Elaine squealed presently. 

“Two of them!” Nga corrected her. 

The children gathered close to me, and we kept a sharp lookout. By the time we 
had retrieved the spears there were five sharks circling about us. Then a few 
heavy seas came over the reef to race across the shallows a good two feet deep. 
Johnny and Jakey braced themselves with their spears against the coral; I held 
Elaine and Nga. There were twelve sharks about us when the seas had gone 
down, and when we reached the “Spa” we counted twentyfive of the brutes 
within a hundred yards of us. It was one of the times I have wished there were 
other people on the island. I doubt that the sharks were after us, but they were 
after our fish and lobsters; and how they knew we were carrying them I leave to 
someone else to decide. 


We had a huge meal at noon; then the boss cowboy climbed into the treehouse 



for a smoke, an essay of Montaigne’s, and a doze; but the rest of the cowboys 
had heard a flock of curlews piping their characteristic kee-u-ee cry. Food being 
their sole reason for living, the cowboys went after the birds. Johnny and Jakey 
got lengths of fishline, fixed small hooks on them, and baited them with hermit 
crab. They laid the baited hooks on the lagoon beach, close to the water, and 
scattered various legs and claws of hermit crabs about them. Then they brought 
the other ends of the lines up the beach and whistled the birds to them. It was 
simple enough. Any sort of a whistled kee-u-ee will attract a curlew. In a half 
hour they had six of the big, fat, delicious birds. 

The birds made us a Homeric evening feast. Now the warriors are once again 
asleep, their bellies full, their souls at peace. The old man proposes to join them. 
Good night. 

For two days and nights I was down on my back with filarial fever, while 
betimes a northwesterly gale was bawling outside our little treehouse and the 
children were living on coconuts, with not a whimper from them. 

It was not a pleasant experience. It terrifies me to anticipate what might happen 
in a state of delirium—or what might happen were I to die! Think of these four 
children, aged four to ten, left alone on Suvarrow Atoll! ... Oh well, I should 
have thought of this before being marooned here by request; but I didn’t, and 
that’s the end of it; and anyway, our adventure in solitude has been delectable 
save for this one bout of fever. 

All’s well today. The old man has had an excuse to take things easy from dawn 
to dark, reading the Letters of Charles Lamb. I believe I am enjoying them more 
than I did at the first or the second reading. After an hour or two of oblivion to 
the present I lay the book down, and dully my eyes become cognizant of the 
familiar aspect of present-day Suvarrow while in spirit I am still in Lamb’s 
London with Manning, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Dyer. Then I hear Johnny’s voice, 
Jakey’s. A feeling of mingled surprise and pain comes over me: surprise when I 
begin to remember I am on a South Sea island; pain because, for an instant, I feel 
that I have been neglecting my children— neglecting them since August 22, 
1800, when Lamb’s priceless letter to Manning was written. I have been 
neglecting my children! Perhaps they have forgotten me during the one hundred 
and forty-two years it has taken me to reach them from the London of Charles 
Lamb. Now I shall have to coax back their friendship, even renew their 
acquaintance. 



We are working into a comfortable routine of life. Being in fine health again, I 
wake before daylight, fully refreshed and with no desire to lie a-mat. 
Nevertheless I lie on my bunk in the treehouse long enough to roll a pandanus- 
leaf cigarette, light it, and take a few deep puffs as betimes I glance out the big 
window and decide that it will be a fine day. If there is a moon, as there is now, I 
can see the passage black as River Styx, and beyond it a misty line where the 
combers thunder over the east reef. The cigarette half finished, I bind on a 
loincloth and climb from the treehouse. 

After the first bowl of coffee I remember that there are some cowboys in the 
treehouse. A thunderous roar wakens them; another roar informs them that it is a 
good morning; a third roar warns them that faces are washed and hair combed 
before breakfast. 

Their morning meal consists of a drinking nut each, a ship’s biscuit, an uto (the 
absorbing organ in a sprouted coconut), and anything that happens to be left over 
from the night before. They do not drink coffee or tea because they have been 
told that they may drink either whenever they wish. Likewise they do not make a 
habit of smoking or drinking whiskey because they know that I have no 
objection to their doing either. 

After breakfast I take a walk along the beach as far as the Spa, and usually I take 
my fish spear with me, for octopuses are found easily in the early morning, and 
they make good bait. By the time I have returned the sun has risen, the children 
have washed the few cooking and eating utensils and cleaned the house and the 
clearing—which last requires a short explanation. 

When Desire died I told my friends that I proposed to keep my children and 
bring them up without a woman’s help. If my wife could bathe my son I opined 
that I could bathe my daughter, but as all my children could bathe themselves it 
should be necessary for me only to see that they did so. In other things I 
proposed to teach my children to take care of themselves. My friends were 
skeptical. They believed I would soon be fed up and would remarry or hire a 
nursemaid. Hire a nursemaid! For myself, perhaps, but certainly not for my 
children; and I need no nursemaid to take care of me so long as I have the 
children for the job. 


It is wonderful how industrious children can be if left to their own devices. An 
unpleasant job becomes play to them if they are allowed to work at it in their 



own way and learn by their own mistakes; but any job becomes a chore when 
older people are overseeing them. 

One of the nastiest chores about a South Sea house is keeping the yard clean; 
and this is a chore we expect our children to do, for their backs are limber, their 
fingers nimble, their eyes sharp. For a long time I failed to find a way to make 
policing the yard a pleasure; then by accident, here at Suvarrow, I discovered it. 

“Jakey,” I said one morning, “I’m going fishing. You take charge of the outfit 
and see to it that the women clean the yard.” 

Then off I pranced, without much attention to Jakey’s grin of malicious glee or 
the angry glances of Johnny, Elaine, and Nga. When I returned I was met with a 
storm of protest. Jakey, it seems, had become drunken on the wine of authority; 
Jakey had stuck out his chest, lowered his voice to a growling basso-profundo, 
made his eyes snap, and worked his sisters like slaves. 

A critical situation had arisen, but with my usual discretion (quoting Captain 
Prospect) I smoothed things over at once by telling Johnny that she would be in 
charge tomorrow, Elaine the next day, and Nga the day after. Later I dropped a 
hint to Johnny that if she was too hard on the other children they would take 
revenge on their days. 

The scheme worked. Johnny bossed her brother and sisters mildly, getting the 
job done well without starting any fist fights or even reports of cruelty to the lord 
of the aegis. When Elaine’s day came it was a sight for a sore spirit to see the 
little dear almost in tears with happiness as, for the first time, she bossed her 
brother and sisters. Now and again she would gasp with emotion, her eyes would 
become soft and almost sensuously happy. “Rinse out the teakettle, Jakey!” she 
would command, and when the big cowboy obeyed without a murmur she would 
be so happy that she could not find the heart to work Jakey any more that day. 
But when Nga disobeyed her a little spark of anger came into her soft brown 
eyes, and her peppery cry to Nga came in a tone I had never heard her use 
before. Gentle little Nga looked up with eyes wide and mouth open, as surprised 
as I, and straightway did as she had been bidden. 

When Nga’s day came she made somewhat of a mess of things; but the children 
are fond of her and Elaine had forgiven her insubordination, so when she ordered 
them to burn down the cookhouse and fill the tank with sand they swept the yard 



and washed the dishes; and when she ordered her old man to make rock candy 
he obeyed without a murmur, being fond of rock candy himself. 

I did not have to suggest that the experiment become a part of our household 
routine. They took this for granted, and from the first day started looking 
forward to their days of authority. Now there would be war in camp if I proposed 
abandoning the scheme. Incidentally, I let one of the children sleep with me each 
night, on the bunk in the treehouse, while the others sleep on the floor; and the 
child that sleeps with me is put in charge of the household the following day. 
Thus I can keep tally, and thus I can drop a few hints about the morrow’s work. 
“What do you think, Johnny,” I can ask, “wouldn’t it be a good idea tomorrow 
morning before breakfast to inspect hair for combing and eyes and ears for 
washing?” “Good idea; just leave it to me,” Johnny will comment, whereupon I 
know, beyond the slightest doubt, that hair will be combed, faces and ears 
washed, tomorrow morning before breakfast. 

As for the old man, he eschews his turn at bossing the outfit, for he is too fond of 
his gang to deprive them of a recurrent day’s pleasure; and anyway, as I have 
said, the old man is the only one in the outfit that requires a nursemaid. 

When the yard is clean, the houses are tidy, the dishes washed, the boss of the 
day lines up the other three cowboys in the clearing below the treehouse, roars 
‘“Ten-shun!” then marches down the line to inspect hair, eyes, cars, and to see 
that no scholar has forgotten to dress for school. Then the three warriors are put 
through a little snappy drill, some calisthenics, and finally marched up the ladder 
into the treehouse for instructions in the Higher Learning. 

Though Jakey is younger than Johnny, they are in the same class. I write them a 
page of English to be learned and copied, a page of arithmetic, and a page of 
drawing with captions and conversation, as in the comic papers. They are 
enthusiastic scholars, and solely, I verily believe, because they know I should 
prefer not to teach them and that I have not the slightest objection to their 
playing hookey anytime they wish. 

Elaine has a page of English and lots of pictures to copy. Nga is given a carbon 
of Elaine’s page, which she interprets, with the rare genius of a modern artist, 
into whirligigs and thingamabobs. 


Jakey, being a real he-man, takes little interest in school learning. This should 



worry me, I suppose, but it doesn’t. The trouble with Jakey is that he can’t keep 
more than one thing in his head at a time. For a day or two I will drill him in the 
“put-togethers,” and he advances rapidly. “What are two plus two plus two plus 
two?” I’ll ask, and, after a little quick calculation on his fingers, he’ll come out 
with the answer, correct every time. Then I’ll switch to the “take-aways,” and in 
three or four days he’s better at 'em than at the put-togethers; but when I return 
to review the put-togethers I find that he has forgotten them, and when I brush 
him up on them I find that, in the process, he has forgotten the take-aways. At 
such times, seeing his usually happy face drawn and frustrated, I will brighten 
him, and myself, by quoting the Chinese poet: 

Families, when a child is born, Want it to be intelligent. I, through intelligence 
Having ruined my life, Hope only my child will be ignorant and stupid. Then he 
will crown a successful career By being a cabinet minister. 

This perks us both up; and if there is still a feeling of inferiority we remind 
ourselves that the younger one of us is a number-one performer at spearing fish, 
shying stones at roosting birds, standing on his head in the water, and climbing 
trees. 

Johnny is very bright—too bright; and this is more troubling to me than Jakey’s 
dullness, for Johnny becomes bored with schoolwork if it is too easy. She is in 
danger of finding fife too easy for her, and hence tiring of life. 

Elaine, I am, afraid, resents her lower grade, feels it is impossible to catch up 
with Johnny, and therefore suffers from mild frustration. I try to remedy this by 
giving her mostly drawing, at which she surpasses her older sister. This tickles 
Elaine into chortles of delight and does not worry Johnny. Nga is still too young 
to do much, but I keep her happy by admiring her whirligigs and thingamabobs 
and calling them topsail schooners and automobiles. 

School stops when the children have had enough. Then many things may 
happen. This morning Jakey went pole fishing off the south side of the island, 
the tide being too high to go on the reef. Johnny stayed at home, for she has a 
boil on her knee. Elaine and Nga did what they do virtually all the time: rustled 
food, ate, rustled more food, and ate some more. The old man continued work on 
his novel until noon, then kindled a fire in the native oven, made a sort of 
pudding of utos, grated coconut, and arrowroot starch, and baked it. 



We had a big meal when Jakey came home with his fish; then I returned to the 
treehouse, this time to read a dozen pages of The Decline of the West, wonder if 
I really live in the same world Spengler writes about, and to go to sleep. I woke 
at about four and put in two hours of hard work clearing a path to the north 
point. Arrived there, and finding the children in the Spa, I joined them till dusk, 
to cool off and wash the sweat and grime from me. 

In the evening we polished off the rest of our pudding and fish, built a fire with 
pemphis logs, laid out mats and pillows, smoked and told stories till eight or nine 
o’clock, when I returned to the treehouse, carrying the sleeping Nga, whose turn 
it is to occupy the bunk with me tonight. 

After writing the above I blew out the hurricane lantern and stretched out on the 
bunk. I lay on my left side, with my back to the window facing the passage; and 
presently, through the window across the house, I saw, apparently a little to one 
side of Tou Islet, a light! It was too big for a star, and it glowed red, like a palm- 
frond torch. I laid Nga on the floor so she would not fall out of the bunk, woke 
Johnny, and the two of us climbed out of the house and hurried to the wharf. 
From there we could see that the light was a half mile to the north of Tou Islet 
and apparently suspended a little above the horizon. It did not move. 

“What is it, Papa?” Johnny asked. 

“That’s what I want to know,” I replied, and that’s what I want to know now. In 
about a half hour it disappeared suddenly, nor did it reappear, though we 
watched for fully an hour. Were it not that the wind is blowing fresh and the 
lagoon is too choppy for my sailing canoe I would go over to Tou tonight. 
Perhaps there are some shipwrecked sailors over there. Perhaps it was a signal of 
distress! 

To give an impression of this exciting day will be hopeless unless one bears in 
mind the loneliness of Suvarrow, its complete isolation from the rest of the 
world. Try to imagine a ring of green islets that no one knows anything about or 
cares anything about. Try to hear the monotonous rumble of reef combers, the 
screaming of sea birds, the wind’s everlasting song in the palm fronds, which 
combine in the very language of solitude itself. Try to smell the clean breath of 
an island untainted by habitations. Try to feel the presence of the familiar spirit 
of this haunted place—the familiar spirit that has inhabited the sequestered 
groves for ages, only at long separated intervals to see strange man-creatures 



come ashore, to see fights, carouses, murders, and then the man-creatures, or 
those that survived, sail away, leaving the island for years or even decades to the 
flying and the creeping things and the spirits of the dead. 

I felt strongly the loneliness of Suvarrow this morning as I trod the beach toward 
the north point, spear in hand. I was thinking, of course, of the strange light 
Johnny and I had seen the night before; and it was several seconds before I 
became conscious of something strange in the humming sound that came from 
across the lagoon. Then suddenly I associated the sound with Fiji, where Johnny 
and I were last year, and the next instant with the warplanes we had seen flying 
over Suva. My heart missed a beat and my knees wentweak. Warplanes! 
Japanese! Suvarrow an air base for the enemy! All settlers on Suvarrow 
summarily dispatched with machine-gun fire! My children! They were a half 
mile away, too far to warn! 

Then I saw the warplanes over Tou Islet—two of them! I did not have to dive for 
shelter: I had simply to step back a pace and the jungle swallowed me so 
completely that a man passing ten feet away could not have seen me. The hum of 
the warplanes rose quickly to a vicious roar. They were circling over Anchorage 
Island! I parted the leaves slightly and glanced up. One plane flew over me not 
three hundred feet away. On each of its silver wings I saw a star. I let the leaves 
close over me again and offered a little prayer that my children were as well 
hidden as I. What nation uses a star for its insigne? I wondered. Perhaps the 
United States. I hoped so but did not know. 

The planes circled over the island for fully five minutes, then they roared away 
toward Turtle Islet; their noise diminished; they were gone. 

I hurried back to the clearing to find that the children had taken cover like mice, 
crawling into a great heap of palm fronds. Needless to write all the exclamations, 
surmises that passed between us. Now we are wondering if the warplanes were 
associated with the light we saw last night. We are wondering if some vessel has 
been wrecked on the other side of Tou Islet, if there are castaways on Tou, and if 
the airplanes have been searching for them. On this supposition we sail for Tou 
tomorrow, the wind permitting. 

Silver wings over Suvarrow! So there is another world, after all! So there is a 
war going on; my country is embroiled in it, and I should be almost anyplace 
except Suvarrow—anyplace where I can give some kind of aid to my country. 



Well, I can’t swim to the U.S.A., and neither Panikiniki —my sailing canoe—nor 
the pearling cutter will take me there. 



Chapter IV 


We set out in Panikiniki (Skipping-stone) this morning for the six-mile sail 
across the lagoon to Tou Islet. For equipment we took a bush knife, a fish spear, 
matches, and tobacco: nothing else, for we enjoy using our wits to live when we 
go to the far islets. We consider a civilized picnic more nuisance than pleasure, 
and a camping trip, with almost everything from portable bathtub to medicine 
kit, the next thing to a nightmare. I say this advisedly, for often I have 
nightmares in which I am trying frantically and hopelessly to pack all the 
“essentials” for such an expedition. God save me from portable property! God 
save me from traveling with dozens of trunks, suitcases, hatboxes, bundles, and 
packages! God permit that I go through life like a child, with a spare shirt and a 
slingshot tied up in a handkerchief! 

There was a mild breeze, but even so the crossing was unsafe, for Suvarrow’s 
lagoon, being almost free from coral heads and reefs, builds up an ugly chop. By 
the time we were beyond the lee of the land, skipping along under the full force 
of the wind, I wished we had taken a reef in the sail, not only because there was 
danger of Panikiniki capsizing but also because, when she sails faster than eight 
knots, she takes a good deal of water over her bows. Well, I got Elaine and Nga 
aft with me, so as to keep the bows well out of water, put Johnny and Jakey on 
the forward outrigger crossboom, and we flew along in grand style. But later, 
when the wind freshened a little, I had to send Johnny on the outrigger itself. She 
sat on its forward end, her back to the crossboom; and it must have been an 
exciting ride for her, sometimes skipping from wave to wave, sometimes swung 
a foot or two above the water, and sometimes ducked to her neck when the 
outrigger plowed through a wave. Jakey perched halfway out on the crossboom, 
steadying himself with one hand on the windward stay. Elaine and Nga were 
busy bailing. 

With an outrigger canoe—mine, at least—a man cannot come about and return 
to his point of departure, for the canoe will capsize if the outrigger is on the lee 
side. To come about the canoe must be beached or sailed to shallow water where 
it can be held. Then the sail is lowered, the mast unstepped and then secured in 
the other end of the canoe, and the sail hoisted again. The outrigger must be 
always on the windward side. 



So there was nothing for us to do but carry on, once we had started; and when 
we were halfway across I stopped worrying about the wind—I hoped it would 
freshen—for all at once I got to thinking about the warplanes— curse them! 
“What a perfect target we would make!” I thought with a shudder, and 
straightway fancied scores of enemy planes swooping down on us to spray us 
with machine-gun bullets .... And yet Captain Prospect claims I have no 
imagination! It was with a good deal of relief that I steered Panikiniki through 
the mess of coral heads in Tou Islet’s crescent-shaped bay and got the children 
ashore. 

First we walked around the islet in search of castaways; but not a sign of one did 
we see, not even a footprint to fire the blood of Ropati Crusoe and family. On 
returning to the lagoon side, of the islet we found a place where it was possible 
to break through the thick shore bush and go inland; and this we did, at times 
creeping or even worming our way under the bush, or tramping over it, or 
cutting a path through it. The jungle was denser than it is on Anchorage Island, 
for there were thickets of cordia saplings, which do not grow on the other islets, 
and there were guettarda trees, and hernandia, impenetrable tangles of pemphis 
and pandanus, and in the center of the island as fine a grove of tou trees as I have 
ever seen. 

There was less undergrowth under the tou trees. Glancing up, we could see 
thousands upon thousands of noddy terns, ghost terns, and boobies nesting in the 
branches. The air was rank with the miasma of decayed vegetation and sea-bird 
droppings; the thunder of reef combers came seemingly from far away, very 
faintly and hollowly, and somehow lugubrious. There was not a breath of wind. 
The clamor of the birds was so great that we had to shout to be heard; and all 
about us, climbing the trees, in every hollow log, under rocks and rubbish, or 
even on the open ground, scurried the coconut crabs, like prehistoric creatures, 
big-clawed, red-eyed, feeding on sea-bird fledglings and eggs. 

In the deep gloom of the tou forest, hemmed in by jungle, with the clamor of the 
birds both exciting and bewildering me, I sensed that we had explored to a land 
beyond the edge of the world. I fancied that no human being had ever been there 
before. It gave me a panicky feeling. I sensed that I had gone too far, that I had 
gone back in time to a pre-man age, that an impenetrable curtain had dropped 
between me and the world of the twentieth century. 


On the lagoon beach there was no place to make a camp, for the bush grew in a 



solid wall to the water’s edge; but before moving on we pulled some drinking 
nuts from a low tree, drank their water and ate their meat, then had a smoke, and 
a council in which we decided to explore the other islets. 

There are three islets to the south of Tou, with narrow channels between them. 
We poled the canoe to the first one, but found the bush so dense that we did not 
even attempt to break into it. The next one would have made a possible camping 
place, but there were only five coconut trees and not more than a rood of ground. 
The third islet looked no more promising at first, but when we had poled the 
canoe to its south point we found as pleasant a camping place as one could wish 
for. A white coral beach shelved into a narrow channel six feet deep, while 
beyond the channel the reef shallows, now dry, curved away to Jack Buckland’s 
Cays and New Islet. Above the beach was a clump of tournefortia bushes, about 
twenty feet high and with walking room under most of their branches. Their 
leaves gave partial shade, so there was none of the gloom and dampness of the 
jungle, nor was it too hot and glaring. A colony of ghost terns had laid their eggs 
in the forks of the branches, and now the limbs were spotted with white 
fledglings. We could see on the top of each fuzzy head the black stripe they had 
inherited from their famous ancestor whom the god Maui had marked with his 
firebrand. The mother birds, returned from sea, fluttered like butterflies in the 
shadows. 

We pitched our camp under a big tournefortia bush, within a few feet of the 
beach. Then Jakey and I went after drinking nuts and utos while the womenfolk 
picked the noddy terns and the booby and cooked them, and the crab, on 
pemphis-wood coals. We gorged like savages. Free from the last inhibition of 
civilized man, the cowboys seemed to delight in smearing their faces with bird 
grease and grime, in snoggling as they poured the coconut water down their 
rapacious gullets. Nga was a shade daintier than the others; but Elaine, the sweet 
glutton of the family, managed to smear herself from navel to crown, with a few 
dabs and streaks on her fat legs and a spot or two on her toes. Johnny and Jakey 
did their best to be tough and fierce and covered with war paint, and the old man 
himself came in a close second, as Nat Gould would put it. 

After the meal we jumped into the channel for a swim and a partial cleansing, 
and then, at sunset, we made beds and pillows of magnolia leaves. It it doesn’t 
rain we shall use the sail for a quilt, but if rain comes the sail will have to serve 
as a tent and we shall have to huddle together as best we can. The usual 
procedure in such a case is to lay the sail over the canoe, weigh down its edges 



with stones, and prop it up with a paddle at each crossboom. 


I have been writing the last of this by firelight. I shall now lie on the beach, 
beside Panikiniki, smoke a cigarette, and invite my soul in this grotesque, this 
weird, this fantastic isle so far beyond the edge of the world that I sense here the 
presence of spiritual things. Good night, cowboys! Good night, Desire! Do you 
remember, Desire, the time when we walked the reef from Anchorage Island to 
Tou, how you carried two-months-old Jakey in a net on your back and I carried 
two-year-old Johnny? How I wish you were with us tonight! 

This has been a lazy, happy day albeit I missed my early-morning cup of coffee. 
The day started, at the first blush of dawn, with a lecture on ichthyology by 
Professor Booby. He was drolly pedantic. Twittering and occasionally 
squawking, he shook his head so vigorously that I feared the spectacles, which 
seemed to rim his eyes, would be shaken off. Mrs. Booby, the only student, was 
bored stiff; but when the professor had lectured himself dry on the natural 
history of fishes, and had cleared his throat for a few remarks on the sex life of 
the solan goose, Mrs. Booby perked up a little, eyed her husband wistfully, and 
snuggled a trifle closer. Watching her, in the dim morning light, with a 
background of flushed clouds seen through gaps between the leaves, I thought I 
could detect the ghost of a smirk on her somewhat verjuiced face. 

I felt comfortable and lazy. The cowboys were fast asleep, so they did not see the 
mother ghost tern bring a yellow mullet in from the lagoon and feed her 
fledgling. The breakfast was as big as the birdlet, but he bolted half of it bravely 
and let the other half protrude from his mouth, to be swallowed when the first 
half had been digested. This necessitated his perching on the branch with neck 
thrust out stiffly and beak open, but he didn’t seem to mind it; he seemed 
sensuously happy. 

I rose quietly, so as not to waken the cowboys, took my fish spear, and went to 
the channel. There I found a school of silver mullet so closely packed that I 
could have speared them with my eyes shut. As it was, I got two with one jab of 
the spear, and as they weighed over a pound each I did not have to look farther 
for breakfast. 

Next I laid a few coconut spathes on the embers of last night’s fire and piled 
pemphis sticks on top of them. The wind blew them into a blaze in a few 
minutes, and a half hour later they had burned down to coals, on which I threw 



the fish, gutted but not scaled. There were plenty of drinking nuts from last 
night, so I laid five of them on the edge of the fire to warm, wishing that the all 
but sufficient coconut tree bore coffee nuts. 

When the fish were cooked and the nuts warm I yelled some pleasant words to 
the cowboys, and when they had risen I herded them down to the channel and 
pushed them in. They splashed about for a few minutes and then scampered up 
the beach shining both in body and spirit, after which we breakfasted. 

The rest of the day was spent on the main islet of Tou, gathering food, eating, 
lying in the shade to smoke and drowse, shying stones at roosting birds, picking 
up shells from the outer beach, and, at low tide, gathering periwinkles on the 
great brick-red “fairway” that leads four miles to the Buckland Cays .... 

We are comfortably tired this evening, but we have enjoyed ourselves so 
thoroughly that we propose to stay on this islet beyond the edge of the world for 
several days. Later we will sail the two miles to Bird Islet, then the five miles to 
Turtle Islet, and finally the four miles back to Anchorage Island. I hope the 
weather holds good: February is the worst month in the year for a picnic of this 
kind. 

We arrived at Bird Islet this morning, and we found it to be the richest and most 
beautiful of all the islets on Suvarrow’s reef. 

Desire, Johnny, Jakey, and I had been here before, but it was only to skirt along 
the outer beach when on our way to Tou. Today I decided to do a little exploring. 

After we had rustled our morning meal I left the cowboys in camp and started 
through the islet toward the northwest point, which is also the point closest to the 
barrier reef; but before I had gone three hundred yards I stopped, with a flutter of 
excitement and surprise. I had stumbled into a ditch some three feet deep, and 
then, peering this way and that in the thick undergrowth, I had seen that the 
ground was crisscrossed with ditches over an area of nearly an acre! It must have 
been where Jule Tirel had dug for treasure! Jule Tirel! A whole cinematograph of 
pictures flashed through my mind to end with the Frenchman begging for his 
life, the oar of a Penrhyn diver crashing down on his skull, and finally Tirel 
sinking to the bottom of the passage, in the grave with Tom Carlton and Joe 
Bird! 


“Well,” I thought as I started forward again, “here’s a combined Jungle 



Expedition and Historical Monument for Captain Prospect’s tourists. The golfers 
can take it in as a diversion from the long drive from Turtle Islet to Tou... . One 
bob for tea and cakes at the site of Jule Tirel’s treasure hunt!” 


Presently I broke through the bush to the outer beach and there walked slowly 
toward the northwest point, staring with wonder at the birds roosting in the 
pemphis bushes: frigate birds and boobies, terns and tropic birds, and not a one 
of them polite enough to grant me more than a casual uninterested glance. Their 
smug self-complacency annoyed me a little. I felt like knocking a few of them 
from their perches so as to demonstrate the importance of the white man even 
among the birds of Suvarrow. Then I became as snobbish as they, for along the 
tidemark I found first one bottle and then a second one. Each was corked and 
had a paper in it! 

I crawled under a magnolia bush and laid the bottles on the thick mat of leaves, 
to stare at them for a little space and thus by anticipation whet the thrill of 
opening them and reading their messages. But presently my curiosity could 
endure the strain no longer, so I broke the neck from one of the bottles, fished 
out a paper that appeared old, yellow, and stained, and read: 


TO FINDER 

THIS BOTTLE WAS THROWN OVERBOARD BY KEITH SHEPHERD EN 
ROUTE TO AUSTRALIA, BETWEEN MADANG AND SALAMAUA. 
PLEASE WRITE AND TELL ME WHERE YOU FIND IT. 

G.O.P. BOX 589 

SHANGHAI CHINA 


There was no date. I speculated on how the bottle could have reached this 
desolate spot, both to windward and upcurrent from where it had been thrown 
overboard. The current in this part of the Pacific flows to the southwest. The 
bottle must have been carried south to the great westerly drift, thence to a point 
close to Cape Horn, thence up the Humboldt Current to the Equator, and thence 
across the Pacific to the southwesterly drift, which brought it here. 



The other bottle contained a religious tract, printed in small type on both sides of 
a single sheet of paper, and with virtually no margins. The caption was in black 
letter: 

Bread Cast Upon the Waters.—No. 16. 


Then followed in Roman type: 


How Does the Believer 
Know that He Is Justified? 

And then a verbose sermon, as unnourishing a crust as was ever thrown upon the 
waters. It was signed “C.S.,” and an advertisement at the bottom of the page 
informed me that it had been printed by G. Morrish, 20 Paternoster Square, 
London, E.C. Below and to one side of this had been written in pencil: 25th, 8, 
40. 

“Hm!” I thought. “Even to the last isle of the heathen, and beyond, back to 
prehistoric Suvarrow in time, beyond the edge of the world in space, the 
missionaries succeed in scattering the seeds of the True Faith. Tireless Soldiers 
of the Cross, they have buttonholed me even here, on Bird Islet, to ask me how 
the believer knows that he is justified!” 

Last night squall after squall yelled over Bird Islet; we got soaked to the skin in 
spite of our sail, and this morning we turned out of our makeshift tent as 
bedraggled and shivery as the sea birds roosting in the open. We found that 
heavy seas were building up along the west reef, the sky was black and ominous, 
and over the islet great flocks of frigate birds were wheeling—a sure sign of 
worse weather to come. 

We managed to cook a good breakfast, and when we had eaten our fill our spirits 
were revived and we decided to watch for our chance between squalls and set 
out for Turtle Islet. The wind being in the west, we would have the reef and 
shallows to break the worst of the sea. We took two reefs in Panikiniki’s sail, 
stepped the mast and stayed it well, got our gear aboard, and set off. 



There followed one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever known. The 
first mile or two was fairly safe sailing; but then the tide started to flow, monster 
seas piled over the reef and the shallows to form a nasty chop in the lagoon, and 
from then on it was all we could do to keep afloat. A raging squall, thick with 
rain, rolled down on us when we were halfway across; sunlight faded into 
darkness; the canoe pitched and rolled her outrigger under; the waves lapped 
over the gunwales. I swung her into the wind and tried to hold her close to the 
reef shallows, but, paddle as I did, we drifted a half mile to leeward before the 
wind had abated. Soon we were in deep water, too far from the reef to make it 
swimming should the canoe capsize. Turtle Islet looked misty and far, far away; 
my heart sank in despair, but I called cheerily to Johnny and Jakey to jump to the 
outrigger and for Elaine to bail and, laying the canoe off from the wind, nosed 
her slowly into the choppy sea. 

From then on Elaine had to bail continually and Johnny and Jakey had to perch 
far out on the outrigger crossboom, steadying themselves by holding to the 
windward stay. Every now and then the outrigger would be buried two or three 
feet beneath the water, then, after rising slowly to the surface, it would leap out 
of the water with a jerk, fly into the air, and I would throw myself on the after 
crossboom to keep her from capsizing, We did not dare lower the sail, for then 
we would drift into the open lagoon where the chop was far more dangerous. 
Then there was the gloomy sky, the black squalls pelting us, the knowledge that 
Suvarrow’s lagoon is infested with man-eating sharks! If the children had not 
been with me I should have been less frightened. Continually I found myself 
picturing what would happen if we were capsized... . 

Well, we got to Turtle Islet, but the weather had turned so bad that we decided 
not to try to make the remaining four miles to Anchorage Island until the 
morning. We managed to carry the canoe far up on the beach, on the edge of the 
shore bush, and then we went to work building as rainproof a shelter as possible. 
This we managed by making a tent over the outrigger booms, with the body of 
the canoe as a windbreak. The steep roof kept most of the rain out, and it was 
improved by laying fronds on the windward side, thus breaking the wind that 
otherwise drove rain through the canvas. 

Luckily my matches were dry. We got a fire going after several attempts, brought 
in some logs to keep it burning all night, and built a lean-to of fronds to protect it 
from the full force of the wind and rain. 



Drinking nuts we gathered from a low tree by prodding them with the fish spear 
and pulling them down. Of utos and coconut crabs there were aplenty, so we 
managed to make a meal of it. Now the children are drying their clothes at the 
fire, laughing and chattering; I am dreading the night, and I am wondering if we 
will be able to get back to Anchorage Island tomorrow or if we will have to 
weather the storm here at Turtle Islet. 

Well, we have had a never-to-be-forgotten primitive picnic, and, albeit it is 
miserable now, we will enjoy thinking about it later, for it seems that our pains 
more than our pleasures give us enjoyment in retrospect. 

Still a few smokes left in the tobacco tin! 

This morning the wind had settled in a northwesterly gale. I knew this meant a 
week of bad weather, and, husky though the cowboys are, I did not like the idea 
of weathering it on Turtle Islet; so, bright and early, we got our gear into the 
canoe and stepped the mast but did not set the sail: the mast alone would drive us 
forward as fast as we cared to go. 

By starting early we profited by less chop in the lagoon, for the tide was low and 
only the biggest seas spilled over the reef into the lagoon. For the first mile we 
had One Tree Islet and the Brushwood Group on our lee, so if we came to grief 
we had only to swim a few yards to the fringing reef. But along the mile of open 
reef from Brushwood to the Bird Cays we were in as great danger as we had 
been in the day before, for the tide was coming in, flowing across the shallows to 
strike the lagoon waves crosswise and build up a chop that threatened to swamp 
us. Of course we knew we could swim to the shallows, but it was doubtful if we 
could wade through the strong current fast enough to make the cays before the 
tide rose and washed us back into the lagoon. We were all bailing for dear life 
before we made the Bird Cays; then the chop smoothed down, leaving only the 
waves rolling under our stern. I sighed with heartfelt relief, rolled a cigarette and 
smoked it to strengthen me for the final dash to Anchorage Island. 

When we came abreast of the south point of Whale Islet I saw at once that to 
continue in the lagoon would be perilous indeed, so I ran the canoe ashore, took 
down the mast and laid it across the, outrigger booms, then made a line fast to 
the bow of the canoe and proceeded to pull it along the shallows the remaining 
half mile to Anchorage Island. It was bad business. Johnny tried to help me, but 
the first sea that swept through the shallows nearly carried her away. She 



grabbed the canoe, however, and managed to pull herself aboard. Then I 
struggled on alone, waist-deep in the water when the seas surged past me, often 
nearly carried off my feet, and half the time unable to make any headway. I was 
working too hard to be afraid. Even the knowledge that the tide was rising, and 
must soon sweep us into the lagoon if we did not make the land, did not frighten 
me. I remember eying an approaching sea with a sort of grim amusement and 
reflecting that Captain Prospect’s golfers would have to wear rubber clothes and 
use celluloid golf balls today. 

Of course we made the land, pretty well cold and exhausted, but excited as kids, 
for just as we were wallowing through the channel, by the Spa, Johnny yelled at 
the top of her lungs: “Sail ho!” 

And, so help me, if it wasn’t the sails of a cutter rounding the point of Turtle 
Islet! 



Chapter V 


Last night we talked about the cutter, we dreamed about it, we worried about it. 
When we first sighted her we thought she might be Hurry Home, for there was 
no telling whether or not she had a mizzenmast; but once we were home and had 
studied her through the binocular there was no question about her belonging to a 
species of vessel much evolved above Captain Prospect’s “ship”. 

She had a long main gaff and a tall mast, she was painted white, and there was 
an odd structure aft, which I took to be some kind of shelter for the man at the 
wheel. 

I hoped she had an engine; and this was associated with my worry, for she was 
within the northeast bight where so many ships have been wrecked, the wind 
was rising, and squalls were darkening the northern sky. The last we saw of her 
she was beating up slowly on the port tack, four miles off the passage, presently 
to drive into a huge squall; and when it had passed, night had come down 
ominous, windy, and sudden. 

This morning, on crossing to the outer beach, we saw her in about the same 
place. We returned to the clearing to cook our breakfast and eat it hurriedly; then 
we went back to the beach, this time to see the cutter close to the passage. The 
current was running out strong, and seas from the north were rolling into the 
passage to build up a tide rip fully twenty feet from crest to trough. In the shoal 
places the big combers broke continually; along the fringing reef, fifty feet from 
the beach, enormous seas curled and broke and filled the air with their thunder. 
Never before had I seen Suvarrow’s passage presenting such a wild and turbulent 
scene. It seemed impossible for a vessel to live in that confusion of foaming 
seas. I wondered what the men aboard the cutter must be thinking and feeling! 

Of course they saw their danger; but there was no turning back, for the wind was 
dead over their stern, the seas so high that to bring the vessel around would have 
been to wreck her. They took in the mainsail, however, and with their engine 
going full speed ahead and their headsails drawing strong entered the reef heads. 
What a tossing they got then! Several times the cutter sank so deeply in the 
troughs that only her topmast was visible to us ashore, which means that the tide 
rip was over twenty feet from trough to crest! 



I had my binocular on her. When she rose on a crest I could see a man at the 
starboard shrouds and another at the wheel. Both, like good sailors, kept their 
eyes ahead; and this must have taken courage, for every moment or two a great 
sea would surge up behind the tiny boat, lift her stem until she was virtually 
standing on her bowsprit, fling her forward a few yards, then roll under her to set 
her on her stem with bowsprit pointing almost to the zenith; and then, as she 
tried to climb the wave, the current would drag her back a little so that at times 
she lost a little more than she gained. But she gained at other times; and once, 
when a sea broke a few feet aft of her transom and swept her deck from end to 
end, she was flung fully fifty yards ahead. 

It is about three quarters of a mile from the mouth of the passage to the south 
point of Anchorage Island. It took the cutter fully four hours to make this short 
distance; then she was safe, for she was out of the current and the tide rip and 
had entered the lagoon as soon as she had rounded the point. 

The five of us hurried across the island to where we had left Panikiniki and 
paddled out to meet the cutter. When we were close, and had read the name 
Vagus on her bow, we threw a line aboard, which one of the men made fast, and 
then climbed on deck. 

A short, red-faced man of about thirty, with a broken nose and the combined 
appearance of a pugilist and a dreamer, was at the wheel. I noted that his black 
hair was parted and plastered down, and I smelled the odor of island-made 
coconut oil scented with gardenia flowers; so I knew he was a South Sea 
Islander. He grinned rather alarmingly and stretched out his hand. I gave him my 
name. 

“Frisbie!” he exclaimed, as though lost in astonishment. “Not the Frisbie— the 
Frisbie of PukaPuka!” 

“Yes, that’s me,” I replied, somewhat abashed by his mannerism. 

“Shake hands again!” he cried. “I never expected to meet the Frisbie of 
PukaPuka at Suvarrow! ... My name is Powell.” 

Then came my turn. “Not the Powell!” I cried, trying, but probably failing, to put 
the same warmth into my tone. “Not the Powell of Palmerston Island!” 


“The same,” he replied, grinning, and we shook hands yet once again, which 



made us even, the first one having been in mutual esteem, the second one in my 
honor, the third one in honor of Powell. 

“We’ll have a glass of rum when we get anchored,” Powell added, which tied 
another knot in the bonds of friendship and made me aware that I had met a good 
man—according to the South Sea trader’s definition of the word “good.” 

Then the cowboys shook hands with Powell, and then the other member of the 
cutter’s company came aft and was introduced as John Pratt of London, the 
owner. He was of about the same age as Powell, but where the latter was a 
sparrow hawk John Pratt was a heron. He had the same drolly humorous 
expression; his eyeglasses added to the expression, and his long limbs completed 
it. His hair was thin and sandy, his nose long and pointed, his ears large—and his 
hands! I noticed them the instant I had thrown out my hand to grip his. Never 
had I seen such hands. The most casual glance determined that they could belong 
only to an artist. The fingers were twice the length of mine, but they were not 
slim or knotty or nervous fingers: they were long and thick and straight and 
immensely strong. You knew they would grip anything firmly, without a tremor, 
and would move with uncanny precision. 

“Oh, you’re F-F-Frisbie,” Pratt said, stuttering slightly. “I know all about you.” 
Then, a fleeting sparkle in his otherwise dull eyes, he repeated what Powell had 
said: “We’ll have a glass of rum when we’re anchored.” 

“You had a nasty time of it in the passage,” I remarked, and at that the dull look 
came back in his eyes, and, “Yes,” he muttered, “there was a bit of a chop,” then 
turned to set up the mainsheet. 

Again I noticed his hands. They dosed around the rope with a sort of joy in 
action, and they gave a long steady pull which somehow made me think of 
drawing a straight line with a pencil. Accuracy, precision, ease in perfect 
accomplishment, nerves tuned so nicely that there seemed to be no nerves at all, 
deft fingers that could draw a cathedral or an engine part, remove an appendix or 
cut a throat with equal dexterity! 

With Panikiniki towing astern I piloted them to the anchorage, and when she was 
snugly berthed Powell and Pratt invited the five of us below. Cakes and lime 
juice were served to the cowboys, Barbados rum to the three hard-doers of the 
South Seas .... And now let me leave myself sipping Barbados rum and 



listening to the odyssey of Powell and Pratt, and leave the cowboys gorging on 
lime juice and cakes, to describe briefly this “hollow ship” and its two 
adventurers. 

Vagus is the finest little vessel I have ever seen, heard of, or dreamed of. She was 
built on the lines of the Colin Archer North Sea lifeboats, the same lines Ralph 
Stock used for his famous Dream Ship. She is a double-ender, forty feet long, 
beamy, with a low freeboard, about eight feet draft, and with planking of two- 
and-a-half-inch English oak. Forward is a small winch that actually works. Aft 
of the winch is stowed a seaworthy dinghy. The mast is tall and must be fully a 
foot in diameter at the deck; the boom is as heavy as Hurry Home’s mainmast. 
The stays are of plow steel, and not a spot of rust; the running rigging is likewise 
of the best that can be had. From the mast there is a cabin house, only about a 
foot high and with wide alleyways, running aft to the bridge deck, where a wide 
hatchway leads below. A canvas shelter stands on the bridge deck, like the hood 
of a buggy. It extends aft over the cockpit to the wheel, so the helmsman can 
take shelter under it in bad weather or sleep under it when the wheel is lashed. In 
the cockpit are the engine controls, the binnacle, and a thirty-six-inch hardwood 
wheel. The decks are of teak, the deck fastenings bronze. 

Below, elegance has been sacrificed for simplicity. Everything is strong and of 
the best quality: waterproof canvas pillows and mattresses on the bunks, a 
primus stove with a five-gallon supply tank in the galley, instruments of 
navigation that delight the eye, eighteen months’ supply of food—corned-beef 
hash and chili con came, Hormel hams and chickens, ginger-snaps and cheese 
biscuits, dill pickles and Roquefort cheese, American canned beer and French 
bottled wine ... Oh Ford, why enumerate? It makes my mouth water to think of 
all the grand food stowed away on Vagus. The cowboys, little hypocrites, are 
cajoling Pratt shamelessly, petting the heron and feeding him coconuts and fish, 
in the hope of making a substantial inroad on his cases of jam and ginger-snaps. 

Everything inside the ship is of the best that can be bought. The bronze gimbal 
lamps, the Diesel engine, the shelf of fine books, the woolen blankets for cold 
weather and the linen sheets for hot weather. John Pratt’s boat is the one I have 
dreamed of since I was old enough to know what a boat is. All my sins and all 
my failures, I verily believe, have been begotten by a feeling of intense 
frustration because I could never hope to own a boat like Heron Pratt’s Vagus. 


Oh well, let it go at that. 



While sipping the Barbados mm I learned that John Pratt was a commercial 
artist. A year before World War II he sailed out of England, with a partner, for 
the West Indies. Arrived at Cuba, he sent his partner home, then cruised in the 
Caribbean for three years. A few months ago, in Panama, he provisioned his boat 
for an eighteen-month cruise and set out alone for Rarotonga. He made the 
passage in eighty-odd days. “I just let her g-g-go,” he told me with a kind of 
childish simplicity that was altogether charming. “I never t-t-took in sail but 
once, but I hardly left the deck either. I always slept in the little h-h-half shelter 
aft.” 

At Rarotonga his arrival caused no little excitement. It seems that the Tartarins 
of this more than provincial Tarascon took Vagus for some kind of an enemy 
vessel. They sounded the tocsin; the home guards jumped to their guns; the 
civilians evacuated the little port of Avarua! Then the doughty Bill Bryan, ex¬ 
bosun, ex-wharfinger, ex-pilot, manned his lifeboat and went out to Vagus 
bristling with arms. There the doughty Bill found the heron alone, more flustered 
than Bill himself, stuttering, “But really, you know, I’m not a b-b-bleeding Jap!” 

After stretching his legs ashore at Avarua, Pratt sailed to Palmerston Island, 
where lived Ronald Powell, a friend of former days .... And now for a word 
about the sparrow hawk. 

“Ron” Powell is a master shipwright, sailmaker, carpenter, cooper, blacksmith, 
sailor, and a dilettante in the arts, surrealism being his fad at the present moment, 
much to the disgust of the true artist Pratt. Powell has written a good book, but, 
more to his credit, he has built, at Palmerston, boats as fine as any shipyard 
could put out. With these boats the people have established a successful fishery. 
Powell has made his own salt from sea water, salted and smoked his fish, made 
his own barrels from coconut wood, packed the fish in them and shipped them to 
Rarotonga by the ton. He has raised Palmerston from poverty to moderate 
opulence. Before he married and settled on the island there had not been a ship 
sighted for four years; now Hurry Home calls every six months to lift his cargo. 

When many of the “better people” of the South Seas are forgotten, Ron Powell’s 
name will be remembered with those of Ellis, Strickland, Williams, Jennings, 
and a host of other renegades and beachcombers who have brought the 
Polynesians a useful culture if they have not taught them the hypocrisy, 
sanctimony, intolerance that passes for religion in the Pacific. 



When Pratt put into Palmerston, ten days ago, Powell joined him for a short 
cruise among the Northern Islands... . And here they are now, at Suvarrow... . 
And there we were—the cowboys and I—drinking Barbados rum and lime juice, 
gorging on cakes, raising our voices to see who could do the most talking in the 
shortest time. 

Presently I told them about the warplanes and how we had taken cover and later 
had sailed in search of castaways on Tou Islet, and when they asked me I told 
them about the star on the warplanes’ wings. 

They had a good laugh over that and explained that the insigne, a star, was one 
of the stars from my own star-spangled banner. Then Pratt asked me what kind 
of planes they were, land or sea, and when I replied that I hadn’t the foggiest 
idea he laughed again and told me I was a generation behind the times, for any 
child in England or America would instantly have catalogued them as sea, land, 
or amphibian; fighter, bomber, or observation. 

Abruptly Pratt glanced thoughtfully at Powell, smiled, and, turning to me, said: 

“I think I can explain those warplanes. They were looking for the lost aviators. 
At Rarotonga B-B-Bill Bryan told me to keep a sharp lookout for them.” 

“That’s it!” Powell exclaimed, and then he told me that three weeks or a month 
ago an American bomber, with three men aboard, had disappeared in this part of 
the Pacific. It is probable, Powell thought, that the men had saved themselves by 
inflating their rubber raft and drifting on it. And it is possible that they are still 
alive, being tossed by the storm, perhaps in sight of Suvarrow’s barrier reef! 

I then told them of the light we had seen over Tou Islet. They could make 
nothing of it but surmised that it might have something to do with the lost 
aviators and the warplanes. 

I find that I am not writing very coherently. Let me blame it on the Barbados 
rum. It is half-past four in the morning, I note by flashing my torch at the clock- 
barometer combination on the wall opposite my bunk. (Torch batteries from 
Vagus.) The glass reads something like 29:70. Very low! We’re in for a bad 
northwesterly, I fancy. The treehouse creaks and shakes with every blast of wind. 
Perhaps I made a mistake by straddling the house between two trees. Now if the 
trees bend in opposite directions the house may fall. The phlegmatic heron is 
sleeping on the floor under my bunk, where the cowboys usually sleep. The 



sparrow hawk is in the ground-house sleeping with the children. 


I shall rise and kindle a fire under the teakettle. There must be a glimmer of 
dawn behind the black pall of clouds. 

We have spent the day in hearty eating, drinking, and talking. Heron Pratt has 
been generous with his ship’s provisions; also he has brought ashore a bottle of 
Barbados, which last has gone the way of all rum in the South Seas. We have 
heard about the delectable West Indies, and Pratt has told us of his ego-inflating 
experience in going through the Panama Canal with a private pilot assigned to 
his boat and of having the great locks opened for him alone—all for something 
like fifteen dollars. And he has stuttered eloquently over the hospitality of the 
Canal Zone people, the cheapness of food and drink, the off-color joys to be 
found by crossing out of the Zone into the nameless dives beyond. Also he has 
told us what it feels like to set out alone for a five-thousand-mile open-sea 
voyage in a forty-foot cutter, of the monotony of calms in the Gulf of Panama, 
the glory of the trade wind in the South Pacific. He didn’t seem to mind being 
alone at sea. He must have a temperament as serene and philosophical as a 
heron’s seems to be. He might have stopped at the Galapagos, for he passed 
close to them, but he had heard stories of yachtsmen having received bad 
treatment there, so he satisfied himself with a glimpse of their mountains above 
the horizon. And he did not stop at the Marquesas, Dangerous Archipelago, or 
Tahiti, for he thought they might have gone over to Petain’s France, and satisfied 
himself, therefore, by sailing within a few hundred miles of them. But Rarotonga 
he felt sure would be a safe Allied port, if there was one left in the South Seas; 
and anyway, he wanted to drink a cup of tea with his old friend Ron Powell of 
the broken nose and the artistic temperament, and Rarotonga is the port of entry 
for Powell’s island. 

Powell and I talked about our mutual friends among the islands. The bottle of 
Barbados no more than sufficed to keep our throats charged for the mere 
mechanics of discussing every Tom, Dick, and Harry from Easter Island to the 
Fijis. We even talked of Captain Prospect, wondered if he was out in the storm or 
if he was still searching for Nassau and Manihiki, someplace in the moonlit 
reaches near Honolulu or Singapore. 

I suppose I have just written “Singapore” because Pratt brought us the news that 
the Japanese were at the gates of that city and it was expected momentarily to 
fall. It seems incredible, or rather unreal, as does all news from the outside 



world. I respond to such news as I do to a discussion about books; for the life of 
me I can excite in myself only mild interest. Instead of, “Have you heard about 
Singapore?” substitute, “Have you read The Conquest of Mexico?” and then 
carry on the conversation, recalling various of the incidents of horror and high 
romance in Prescott’s history, and the sensation you will feel will be identical to 
the one I feel when Pratt speaks of the war. This is not due to any unpatriotic 
apathy in my nature, but it is because I have heard so little of the struggle that I 
have not been able to develop, by accumulated shocks, an emotional awareness 
of it. My awareness is almost entirely intellectual, and of course such an 
awareness can no more make the blood run hot, the eyes glint, the breath come 
fast than can an awareness of the function of zero in mathematics. 

Pratt gave us good news when he told us of the reverses the Germans are 
suffering from the Russians. As to the United States, he says that my country is 
not yet properly in the war and that probably she will be delayed for some time 
due to the heavy losses to her fleet in Pearl Harbor. 

That one piece of information—which I had already heard vaguely from Captain 
Prospect—brought the war a little nearer to me: it has determined me to return to 
the United States as soon as I can. Hawaii is only about two thousand miles 
away as the crow flies, but God knows how many thousands of miles lie ahead 
of me or how many months of travel! I have now been on my way six weeks, 
and I have managed to sail some two hundred and fifteen miles farther from 
Hawaii than was my point of departure. 

Well, we yarned and yarned; we drank Barbados rum and coconut water; Powell 
and Pratt ate coconut crabs and uto pudding; the children and I gorged on 
Hormel ham, biscuits and jam, tinned peaches and cakes .... and all the time the 
wind howled evilly and shifted more and more to the north, which is just the 
opposite of what it should do, damn it! Seas built up on the reef, which means 
that the passage has become so rough that there is no hope of sailing out to sea. 
This last is what Powell and Pratt want to do, but a glance at the passage firmly 
changes their minds. They are here now, and they’ll have to stay until the 
weather moderates. Their boat is safe enough, for there doesn’t seem to be much 
danger of the weather getting worse. The barometer remains steady at 29:70. 

Tonight the little treehouse shivers and creaks with every blast of wind. Pratt, the 
nerveless heron, doesn’t seem to mind it, but I do. I have not mentioned to him 
that there is a tall coconut tree leaning over the house, and I doubt if he has 



noticed it. He moves about in a kind of bewildered way, as though he were lost 
in some profound philosophical deliberation. His dull, myopic eyes blink 
goodnaturedly and vacantly from behind his thick-lensed glasses. No wonder he 
didn’t mind the eighty-odd days’ sail from Panama to Rarotonga. Perhaps he, 
like myself in relation to the war, was only intellectually aware that he was at 
sea. 

Powell has taken charge of the ground-house, where tonight he is sleeping again 
with the children. I find him a difficult person to describe, and I more than half 
suspect the reason to be that he is a good deal like myself. Oh well, I suppose 
that most of us in the South Seas acquire similar characteristics. 

The wind has been in the east-northeast today and seems to have settled there. It 
is blowing at about a force eight, which in other words is a full storm. This is the 
strongest wind I have experienced in the South Seas save only for the edge of a 
hurricane that I went through in PukaPuka. The passage is a nightmare of 
confused fighting seas. Vagus is weathering it handsomely. We went aboard her 
this morning in Panikiniki, started the engine, and steamed close to where the 
anchor had been dropped, there to drop a second hook and then let the boat drift 
back until both chains got an equal strain. After that, feeling better, we sat in the 
cabin and looked through Pratt’s scrapbook. It contained mostly clippings from 
magazines in which his drawings had appeared. There were many drawings of 
German automobiles. When I asked him if he had been in Germany he said that 
formerly he went there once a year to attend some kind of an automobile show 
and during one of his visits had met Hitler at a dinner given to foreign 
correspondents. Hitler, the heron claimed, did not give the impression of being a 
man of blood and steel. “He was quite a cheery little fellow,” Pratt told me, “full 
fun and jokes, and very friendly to us.” 

It was snug and comfortable in the cabin; the vessel pitched slightly; somehow I 
felt securely isolated from the ominous weather outside. But when I went on 
deck a wet blast of wind slapped my face, the cutter seemed suddenly to pitch 
and roll, the lagoon’s face had a nasty look. Big seas, piling over the reef and 
shallows, had whitened the water with foam; long reaches of chopping waves 
curved away to the west as far as I could see. I noticed that the wharf, for the 
moment, was entirely under water. Seas were washing up the beach and into the 
jungle. The sky was ghastly. 


“There’s nothing more we can do,” said Powell. “I’ll break out some tinned 



pineapple and biscuits for Ropati and his cowboys and we’ll go ashore.” 


“Yes,” Pratt agreed, “and break out a dozen c-c-cans of beer. I don’t mind losing 
my boat, b-b-but I’d hate to have all that b-b-beer go to the bottom.” 

When we had paddled ashore we hauled Panikiniki well above the high-water 
mark; then, in as casual a way as possible both for my own peace of mind as 
well as for the cowboys’, Powell’s, and Pratt’s, I drove a few spikes into the 
beams of the treehouse and fixed four braces to the ground-house posts. 

Glancing at the barometer, I found it had dropped to 29:50 

We now know there is a hurricane brewing somewhere in this vicinity, but we do 
not speak of it. A hurricane on a tiny island of twenty five acres, with the highest 
elevation thirteen feet, and nothing more substantial underfoot than sand and 
gravel, is a nasty thing to contemplate. If a hurricane strikes us Vagus will be 
lost, the houses will be blown away, some of us may be killed, and it is very 
possible, indeed almost probable, that the whole island will be swept away. In 
such an eventuality, when Captain Prospect returns he will find only a bare coral 
reef, with a few bewildered sea birds winging overhead, perplexed at the 
disappearance of their old nesting ground. 

I am beginning to believe that Pratt’s attitude of complete dissociation, or 
abstraction, or nonchalance, is the outward manifestation of profound fatalism. 
At most times he seems lost in spiritual detachment from the vulgar physical 
world, but when his eyes brighten and he takes cognizance of the world about 
him it is to meet one with almost childish simplicity and candor. 

This evening, as we sat at the shore end of the wharf, watching Vagus strain at 
her anchors, trace with her masthead great arcs in the gloomy western sky, I 
offered the heron a penny for his thoughts. I had expected him to reply that he 
was worrying about his ship, but he told me he was thinking of the three 
aviators, perhaps still alive, clinging to their rubber raft, tossed about by the 
storm. 

“There are lots of people worse off than we, aren’t there?” I muttered. 

“Worse off?” Pratt exclaimed, for the first time showing me a fervent side to his 
character. “Even if we have a hurricane it will be nothing to complain about. A 
hurricane is a thing of Nature; it is one of the inevitable things of the physical 
world—like earthquakes and seismic waves. A man is a fool to fret over the 



inevitable .... But think of the people in Europe suffering indescribable agonies 
when they might be living in peace and happiness! Those are the kind of 
calamities that both discourage and terrify a man, and simply because they are 
unnecessary. When I feel like pitying myself I think about bombed London; and 
now, if I start thinking about the danger my cutter is in, I turn my thoughts to the 
three aviators drifting out at sea. If my vessel is lost it will be through an act of 
God, but if those aviators die at sea it will be through the imbecility of man!” 

Just then I caught a whiff of gardenia-scented coconut oil and, turning, saw the 
sparrow hawk standing behind us and the four cowboys coming down the path 
from the clearing. 

“How about those cans of beer?” Powell suggested. “It’s getting late. If we don’t 
crowd sail we’ll never finish them today!” 

Pratt grinned and started to rise, but just then the four cowboys, with ear-rending 
whoops, tore past us, shedding shirts and dresses as they ran, to plunge headlong 
into the turbulent water by the wharf. A startled cry came from the usually 
phlegmatic heron, but he settled back with a bewildered look when Powell and I 
urged the savages on. 

I felt proud of my toddlers then, particularly so of four-year-old Nga, who 
thought nothing of paddling dog-fashion into the deep, churning water. The 
waves bashed her and ducked her, but she responded by turning a somersault. 
The current carried her to the wide floodgate at the shore end of the wharf, but 
she let herself go, to be swept through the gate and lost for a moment in a 
seething pool of foam. It looked as though she were doomed to have her head 
bashed on the coral blocks at the sides of the floodgate, to be drowned instantly, 
to be carried out through the passage to sea, but she knew herself to be safe as a 
bug in a rug. So much did she enjoy the ride that, when she had been carried 
fifty yards down the beach, she climbed ashore, ran back to us, jumped in, and 
did it all over again. And so much did Powell and I enjoy it that presently we 
plunged in to join her—and the other three savages. Pratt stayed on the beach. 
Like a true heron be could float but he could not swim a stroke. 

In a half hour, remembering suddenly the beer, we herded the cowboys out of the 
lagoon and up the path to the clearing, ordered them to prepare food and plenty 
of it, and then settled down to the important business of a South Sea Islander’s 
life. 



We’re in for it, I’m afraid. Last night the seas broke through Anchorage Island, 
at its lowest and narrowest place, to wash a clean channel from the outer beach 
to the lagoon; also they flooded about five acres on the northern point. The 
whole ocean seems to have raised its mean level by about six feet. Violent 
squalls intermittently slash across the island, and when they come it is wise to 
take shelter, for the raindrops prick the skin “like pins and needles,” as Mark 
Estall said of the hurricane at Hikueru. After a heavy squall the wind abates a 
little, to about the violence of a gale; sometimes a misty sun shows furtively 
beyond the racing storm clouds, 

Powell has been busy with Vagus’ sails, patching one and sewing a reefing band 
across the other. Perhaps he keeps at work to divert his mind from the storm and 
the possibility of losing the cutter; or perhaps, like myself, sailmaking stimulates 
his mind, and therefore, as he takes his stitches, his thoughts are far away on 
Palmerston Island, where pretty little Elizabeth Powell awaits both her husband 
and her eagerly expected baby. 

Throughout the morning Pratt lay in the treehouse, improving his mind with The 
Decline of the West; but this afternoon he went to the beach to watch Vagus 
pitching and straining on her moorings two hundred yards beyond the end of the 
wharf. When he returned to the clearing he told us that one of her anchor chains 
had parted! 

I got out my binocular to verify that the starboard chain was hanging straight 
down and swinging a little with the tossing of the cutter. We decided to go 
aboard her at low tide this evening, when there might be less chop in the lagoon, 
and try to get the big sheet anchor over the side. 

This we did. The cutter was now in the lee of Anchorage Island, for the wind had 
shifted to the northeast; but still it was a man’s job getting the canoe launched, 
for the reef combers swept around the north point and along the lagoon beach, to 
bash against the stone wharf and submerge it a good six feet deep, then surge far 
into the interior of the island. However, we waited for a calm spell, ran down the 
beach with the canoe, launched her in the lee of the wharf, and paddled furiously 
into deep water. There the wind caught us and sent us scudding out to the cutter 
so lively that boarding her was like changing horses by a pony express. 

We made Panikiniki fast to the taffrail and went to work as smartly as we could. 
First there was the big 100-pound anchor to hoist out of the forepeak and shackle 



to the remaining fifteen fathoms of starboard chain. Then the engine was started, 
and we moved slowly ahead, at the same time hauling in with the winch about 
five fathoms of the chain on the port anchor. That was as much as we could get 
in, for a long cavalcade of chopping waves swept down on us to strike us with 
such force that, with the engine going full speed ahead and both Powell and I 
straining at the winch, we drifted back until the port chain was straight and taut 
as a bowstring. Up went Vagus’ bowsprit in a wild heave, adding another ton or 
two of strain on the anchor. For a little time the sea vagrant heaved and tugged at 
her mooring. Afraid that the chain might part, Pratt lifted the new anchor chest- 
high and, by some faculty unknown to landsmen, balanced himself on the reeling 
deck to literally “cast” it over the starboard bow. Oddly, even at that moment, in 
the strain and excitement, I noticed how Pratt’s fingers had closed around the 
stock of the anchor in what seemed fierce joy in proving their strength; then I 
turned my eyes to Panikiniki, afraid that she might have been swamped or 
broken loose; but she had weathered the seas better than had the cutter. 

It was getting dark, with dense black clouds piled above the western horizon and 
ugly squalls looming to windward. What if the anchor chains parted while we 
were aboard? There were no more anchors. There was no possibility of sailing or 
steaming in this wind. We should be swept across the lagoon to the southwest 
reef and, if we missed Tou Islet, end our days ingloriously in the awful turmoil 
of breaking seas ... while the children, left alone ashore, with a hurricane 
brewing ... 

“Let’s get out of this!” I yelled when we had payed out all the anchor chain. 

“Just a minute!” came from Pratt. He jumped down the companionway to return 
in no time with four bottles of Barbados rum, two under each arm. Then he 
closed the scuttle and we all climbed into the canoe. We cast off and bent our 
backs to the paddles with every ounce of strength we had, and every ounce of 
strength was scarcely enough. The wind was nearly dead in our teeth, but that 
was not so alarming as the current, which swept us alongshore toward the south 
point. 

There is something fearful about the destructiveness of inanimate things; and 
this, perhaps, is because we sense that they are impervious to the human 
qualities of pity and forbearance. We cannot argue the point with them, quell 
them by threats, appeal to their better natures, bribe them with cash money. This 
evening we knew that if we did not quickly make the shallows the whole force 



of the current would grip us, sweep us round the south point, and carry us to sea. 
Again I thought of the cowboys, alone ashore, waiting for their old man to come 
home. The thought put more strength in my arms than has ever been there 
before. We drove the canoe into the shallows, then jumped out and, because no 
seas were running, managed to rush Panikiniki up the beach. We had missed 
being swept around the south point by a matter of yards and seconds! 

Once on the beach, we felt so exhausted that we could scarcely lift the canoe; but 
lift it we did, and we carried it well above the wash of the highest seas, there to 
make it fast to a coconut stump. 

We were now on the south half of Anchorage Island, a third of a mile from the 
clearing and separated from it by the newly scooped out channel a hundred yards 
wide; so we had to run the gantlet of seas across the new channel to reach the 
north islet. It was nearly dark when we made the dash across. The water was to 
our knees and the bottom uneven, and Pratt, more than half blind at night, had to 
be led by Powell and me and supported when he stumbled. Once, as we ran, I 
glanced down the channel to the passage, but only for an instant. It seemed, in 
the gloomy light, that snow-capped mountain ranges, from some cataclysmic 
upheaval, were tumbling, colliding, crashing in awful turmoil; and, above the 
clamor of the wind, their almost human outcry came to me as the yelling of the 
hounds of hell. By the slimmest chance we three had escaped becoming a part of 
that scene of annihilation! 

The gods of Suvarrow were with us; we were well up the beach of the north islet 
before a sea came from lagoonward to surge through the channel like a tidal 
bore, then meet a comber from the passage, drive into it, seemingly explode, and 
blast into the air a cloud of spray which the wind caught and hurled back to the 
lagoon. 

When we got to the clearing we found the cowboys playing blackjack by 
firelight. The heron opened one of the bottles of rum. A big tot of it was taken 
gratefully by all hands. A second tot eased my nerves sufficiently to make this 
journal entry. 

We are all sleeping in the treehouse tonight. I have cotton in my ears to deaden 
the noise of the storm and to deaden the ominous sepulchral groan that comes 
from one of the tamanu trees, like a warning of doom, each time the tall coconut 
tree, leaning over the roof, rubs against one of the limbs of the tamanu. 



Three men and four children are in this tiny house measuring six feet by eight. 
What a mess the tall coconut tree will make if it falls on us tonight! 

When I woke early this morning I saw Pratt standing at the west window, his 
head and shoulders thrust out and, so help me! his right leg cocked up so the foot 
rested against the side of his left knee, The perfect human heron! For a little time 
he was motionless, then he scratched the side of his knee with his foot, stretched 
his neck first to the right side and then to the left, and finally made a rotary 
motion with his two shoulders, his hands on his hips, reminding me of the 
physical-culture exercises my aunt Charity performed to the end of her days, 
morning, noon, and night, hoping thereby to alleviate her burden of bodily woes. 

Again Pratt was motionless, but abruptly he put his right foot down, thereby 
resuming the character of Mr. John Pratt of London, turned, noted that I was 
awake, and: 

“She’s still there,” he said. “I can see her m-m-masts.” 

We had a good breakfast, then we left the clearing to walk toward the lagoon 
beach. We found that during the night the seas had swept inland halfway to the 
clearing and had cleaned out every sign of jungle, leaving the coconut trees 
standing in pure white sand. It was a bewildering sight. Here, where a day or two 
ago Johnny and I had hunted coconut crabs in dark and all but impenetrable 
jungle, was smooth, clean, sloping sand staked off with the slim, polelike boles 
of coconut palms and, here and there, with fallen trees tracing their length down 
the beach. But we were soon shocked out of our bewilderment, for a great 
comber, a deluge, swept over the north point, surged down the beach with the 
noise of a freight train, washed up to within a yard of where we stood, then 
rolled away to divide its volume between the new channel and the South Islet. 
For a few moments Anchorage Island had been reduced in size to about five 
acres! 

All the trees on the lagoon side of the island, we noticed, were black with 
roosting birds. Many frigate birds were still in the air, blown this way and that in 
wild confusion. Now and again one would be caught by a downgust of wind and 
dashed into the water. We found plenty of them, maimed or exhausted, on the 
beach, and we brought a few back to the clearing to be cooked for our noon 
meal. 



Near the outer beach, on the sea side of the clearing, stands a beacon built of 
solid masonry, eight feet square and as many high. This afternoon Jakey and I 
went to the beacon, climbed to its top, and for a little time watched the raging 
fury in the passage. It reminded me of the Clashing Rocks of the Odyssey. 
“Thereby no ship of men ever escapes that comes thither, but the planks of ships 
and the bodies of men confusedly are tossed by the waves of the sea and the 
storms of ruinous fire.” No clear water was visible. Combers forty feet high 
seemed to be breaking in all directions, bashing each other to spurt great geysers 
of foam high above the turmoil. Above it all a cloud of driving spray blocked off 
the Gull Group of islets and even the barrier reef on the far side of the passage. 

“Suvarrow! Suvarrow! What a siren you are!” I exclaimed. “How you seduce 
men to your haunted shores, but only to destroy them! You seem to have a 
feeling for the dramatic in your tragedies, an eye for the fantastic and the 
grotesque and the spectacular. You have brought together Heron Pratt of London, 
Sparrow Hawk Powell of Palmerston Island, Ropati and his four cowboys of 
PukaPuka; you have moored the little sea vagrant in the lee of Anchorage Island; 
and in the background, in the heaving seas, close by mayhap, you have placed 
three American aviators clinging to their rubber raft, the hurricane roaring down 
on them! But beware lest your love of the spectacular lure you into destroying 
yourself as well as your actors. Already half of your Anchorage Island has been 
swept away. If the wind increases but a little more, the combers rise another foot 
or two, you will destroy yourself in your last great drama!” 

So I mused as I stood with Jakey on the beacon. We did not try to speak, for it is 
unlikely that we could have made ourselves heard. Presently Jakey glanced up at 
me, with fear in his eyes. I helped him down from the beacon and we returned to 
the clearing. 

Later in the afternoon we went to South Islet and, after a long and wearisome 
effort, carried Panikiniki to the lee of the five tamanu trees in the clearing. Then 
Powell bent a line from the canoe’s forward crossboom to a limb of one of the 
trees, thus mooring her in case a sea should sweep through the clearing. He then 
put a strip of matting, a pillow, and a quilt in the body of the canoe and lashed a 
length of iron roofing above the gunwales. He intends to sleep there, believing 
that if seas wash across the clearing he will be able to ride them safely. He ought 
to know, for he comes from an island infamous for its hurricanes. Pratt has 
decided, in a like eventuality, to trust his life to the treehouse. The cowboys and I 
will take refuge in the pearling cutter. 



At dusk Vagus was still weathering the storm, but she was receiving terrible 
punishment, with the wind holding her bow to the land and the seas striking her 
beam. We watched her rolling jerkily, her masthead tracing an arc of fully ninety 
degrees. Sometimes a particularly heavy sea would swing her round until she 
had her beam to the land, and then the wind and the sea would contend, the one 
blowing her stem lagoonward, the other bashing it back. We realized that with all 
this swinging about her anchor chains must be fouling in the coral bottom, and 
we knew that soon the chains must work under a coral lump close below her 
bows, when, a sea heaving her up, something must part. We watched her out 
there, as evening darkened into night, but we did not speak about her, nor did we 
when we had returned to the clearing. 

Now, at 7 P.M., the barometer is at 29:42! The wind still blows from the 
northeast, which means that the hurricane—if there is one—is headed straight 
for Suvarrow. Its center will pass to the west-northwest; we will be in the 
“dangerous semicircle.” 

We have strengthened the ground-house with new braces, lashings, and plenty of 
spikes; and we have taken refuge there tonight. Vagus’ sails are on the windward 
side of the roof; they hang over the eaves to the ground, where I have staked 
them down. My small chest and typewriter, the three remaining bottles of rum, 
some tea and tobacco, and a few tools and pieces of rope are in the tree house. 
The pearling cutter, near the water tank, has been secured to a tamanu stump 
with sixteen turns of rope. 

The wind howls; the rain lashes across the island; the coconut trees bend far 
over, their fronds flung out and clustered together. Sometimes a tree breaks off, 
usually ten feet from the ground, and is carried fathoms away before it lands. 

I have the hurricane lantern in a kerosene case where it burns fairly well. All of 
the children have on their warmest clothes, and around the waist of each, as well 
as around my own waist, I have tied a two-fathom length of sennit, with the 
ends, each about four feet long, dangling down in front. These are for tying us to 
the trees—should the seas come! ... It gave me a sinking feeling to write those 
last words—should the seas come! ... Damn the wind! We can stand any amount 
of wind. We can survive if the wind blows down every tree—so long as they 
don’t fall on us. But the seas! Great combers crashing, thundering over this tiny 
bank of sand! In Hikueru, in 1906, a thousand people were drowned when the 
reef failed to stop the hurricane seas! 



10 P.M.: We are snug enough. The low jungle, the tamanu trees, and the sails 
along the windward side of the house keep out most of the wind and rain; but 
nothing will keep out the ungodly roar—not even the wet cotton I have stuffed in 
my ears. The windward side of the roof sags far down under each gust of wind; 
the whole house moves, shudders. Outside, enough moonlight seeps through the 
clouds to show sheets of rain driving horizontally across the clearing. When I 
flash my torch into it I can see the jungle, seemingly in convulsions, and the tops 
of the lower coconut trees flinging their black wings to the storm. I know that 
only a few yards away the seas are inundating the land. 

The children are asleep, unconscious of danger. Pratt sits with his back to a 
house post and smokes cigarettes. We do not talk, for it would mean shouting in 
each other’s ears; but a fleeting glance, a ghost of a smile, speaks 
companionship. Powell is in the canoe. 

I will sit under the eaves, on the lee side of the house, and watch for the big seas 
that may come at any minute. When they start flooding the clearing I shall take 
the children to the pearling cutter and try there to ride out the rest of the storm; 
but if the cutter proves unsafe I shall tie them to the tamanu trees. 

Midnight: I have just been on a tour of inspection during a lull in the rain. First I 
climbed to the treehouse to find everything shipshape, but to read the barometer 
at 29:26! In a way the reading was a relief, for it convinced me that we are in the 
worst of the hurricane now. 

Then I went to the path that leads from the tank to the stone wharf, and there I 
found that the seas had swept up to the clearing or, in other words, to within 
thirty yards of our house. Practically all the undergrowth between the clearing 
and the lagoon had been washed away. 

Keeping a sharp lookout, with my torch darting this way and that, I ran to within 
ten yards of the shore end of the wharf, then swept the lagoon with the beam of 
fight. Vagus was still there! For a moment I stared at her in mingled amazement 
and admiration. It must have been an exceptionally calm spell, for she rode 
easily; and she seemed so snug that, perhaps by association, I felt safe myself. 
For a moment I did not heed the sense of danger that prompted me to glance to 
the north. Then the feeling of peril became overpowering. I turned the torch up 
the beach, and its beam met a towering comber, only thirty yards away and 
seemingly curled up fifty feet above me and about to crash down! It carried on 



its crest a great mass of brush and limbs and coconut fronds! I do not know 
whether I had time or coolness enough to realize the uncanny silence of the thing 
—to realize that it seemed to be moving with lethal silence—for the noise of the 
wind drowned the thunder of the sea. I do not know how greatly the sea terrified 
me, for three other objects caught my attention immediately and drew from me a 
scream of horror! 

I saw, or imagined I saw, the figures of three men, just under the crest of the 
wave! They stood stiffly, facing away from me. One of them leaned slightly and 
seemed to support himself on a staff. Perhaps it was only the stumps of three 
coconut trees; perhaps it was only the contagious delirium of the night 
maddening my brain; yet when I recall the scene, now, three half-clothed figures 
leap distinctly into my mind’s eye, the comber curls over them, crashes down; I 
yell, but the noise of the storm is so great I cannot hear my own voice. And now 
I wonder: were those three figures the three American aviators or only phantoms 
begotten by the storm? 

Suddenly panic terror seized me. The figures had been buried by the sea. I 
leaped back, bumped against a coconut tree, and the next instant, by some 
newborn agility and strength, I managed to climb high up on its trunk. There I 
swung the ends of my life rope around the tree and held myself tightly against it. 

The comber swept beneath me. I could feel the tree shudder. A boulder bashed 
its trunk. The sea surged away. Weak, trembling, I loosened my life rope and 
slipped to the ground. Then I turned my torch to where the figures had been, but 
only to see white, glinting sand crisscrossed with the trunks of fallen trees. 

Again I turned my torch to the lagoon, beyond the end of the wharf. Vagus was 
gone! 

Returned to the clearing, I went to the canoe to get Powell out of it, for, from 
what I had seen on the beach, I knew that the first wave to flood the clearing 
would bring with it a great mass of debris, which would smash the canoe. Powell 
was glad enough to come to the ground-house. He said nothing; just rose like an 
obedient child and followed me. When we had rejoined Pratt we each took a big 
tot of rum; and the rum, as earlier in the night, has made it possible for me to 
make this entry. 

I have not told Powell and Pratt that Vagus is gone, or of the three figures on the 
beach, or of my own narrow escape. Now I sit by the kerosene case with its 



flickering old lantern. Elaine’s head is on my lap and the other cowboys are near 
by. As I listen to the storm I feel very small, and I want to cry when I think of the 
peril my children are in. 

Ten yards from where I sit great hurricane seas are eating away the land. 



Chapter VI 


It came on us out of the blackness, at four o’clock in the morning of February 
22. We were all sleeping fitfully except for Powell, whose turn it was to sit under 
the eaves, on the lee side of the house, now and then to flash his torch to 
windward, on watch for the sea. Elaine and Nga slept with me, each with her 
head on my arm. Johnny and Jakey were close by. I had fallen into my first 
sound sleep when Powell woke me with a yell: 

“Look out! It’s coming! The sea!” 

The next instant there was a rush of water, about a foot deep, through the house! 
Wide awake instantly, I picked up Elaine and Nga, jumped to my feet, stumbled, 
fell, and was rolled to the far side of the house with all four children. No one of 
us was hurt. The hurricane lantern, in its kerosene case on top of a chest, was 
still burning. 

When the sea had drained away we sat up to take our bearings. Powell and Pratt 
had disappeared. Elaine was laughing, but the other children seemed bewildered. 
I became aware that the noise of the hurricane was much louder now, that its 
pitch had risen from a roar to a shriek. 

There was no indecision, for we had planned exactly what to do in case the reef 
combers swept through the clearing. In a moment I had Elaine on my back and 
had tied her there with a quilt. Johnny took Nga on her back, I gripped the hands 
of the two older children, and we broke out of the house to come against the 
wind. It struck us like a solid stream of water; and the simile is a fair one, for the 
air was dense with rain. And the noise! Put your ear to a ship’s whistle and pull 
the cord. That is what it was like. The noise seemed to have density. We became 
like people suddenly stricken deaf and dumb, maladroitly trying to express 
ourselves with grimaces and gesticulations. Had another sea flooded the clearing 
then we could not have heard it; nor could we have seen it, even with the 
torchlight, until it was within a few yards of us. 

We crept through the clamorous blackness. Then I remembered my torch, felt for 
it, and found it in my trousers pocket. I flashed it in the tank to find it half full of 
muddy salt water. The galvanized-iron roof was still intact. 



A few yards farther and we were at the pearling cutter, which, as I have said, had 
been secured to a stump with sixteen turns of rope. I put the children in the boat, 
climbed in myself, and then, for a moment or two, flashed the torch here and 
there to find the ground crisscrossed with fallen trees and at one side a tangled 
mass of rusty iron and rotten planks, near where the old trading post had been. I 
could not see the lagoon beach, nor could I make out the tamanu trees albeit they 
were not sixty feet away. 

I felt no fear and no excitement, but rather a dumb horror, such as one might 
experience when lost and groping blindly in the inky blackness of the Roman 
catacombs. I understood very clearly that I was now being called upon to face 
death, that my efforts might save us or, quite as likely, be of no avail. I remember 
that I rolled a cigarette and actually lit it and smoked a part of it by lying in the 
bottom of the boat and covering my head with a quilt. 

An hour must have passed, but still there was no sign of dawn; then a second sea 
swept through the clearing, this one about three feet deep. It raced toward us 
with terrific force, carried away half of the roof over the tank, and then swept the 
wreckage down on us with a great churning mass of bush and fronds and other 
mbbish. It struck the boat on her beam, heaved her up, and laid her over until she 
was all but capsized. The five of us were tumbled in her bilge; we felt the water 
pouring over her sides onto us, and when we had scrambled to our feet we found 
the boat swamped to her gunwales! 

Then the sea spilled away. Turning my torch to the children, I saw them standing 
to their waists in the swamped boat, facing me. Their mouths were wide open 
and tears were streaming from their eyes. Of course I could not hear them 
crying. There was something both agonizing and bathetic about the little picture, 
which I know I shall never forget. 

A second sea came, this one from the passage side of the island. It was not so 
high as the first one, but it rolled the boat completely over, pitched us out, and 
drained away to leave us scattered here and there in the wreckage, more 
bewildered than hurt. Flashing my torch on each of the children, I found that 
they had stopped crying; and I may as well mention now that they did not cry 
again—not even when the climax of peril was upon us and it seemed that there 
was no hope of escape. 


We knew then, of course, that there was no hope of security in the boat. The seas 



had only started to flood the island, and already we had nearly lost our lives. Was 
there time to take refuge elsewhere? When would the next sea come? I felt a 
touch of despair: it seemed so hopeless to contend against this almost 
supernatural power. But the despair was short-lived, for Johnny shook it out of 
me by pulling my hand and beckoning toward the tamanu trees. 

I tied Elaine on my back again and this time took Nga under my arm, for the 
tamanus were to windward, and Johnny could not carry her sister against the 
wind. We crawled past the tank on our hands and knees, seeming to force our 
heads and shoulders into a solid substance, feeling our bodies too light to grip 
the ground. It was slow work and it was desperate work, for constantly we were 
haunted by the knowledge that we might not reach the trees before the next sea 
came. Even now it makes a cold sweat start from my skin when I recall that 
laborious half hour’s struggle when the five of us wormed painfully through the 
solid body of wind, desperate but not despairing. Brave children! They dug their 
toes and fingers in the sand and pushed forward like draft horses hauling a heavy 
load. And the seas! The seas! Would another comber rage through the clearing 
before we made the tamanus? 

Then, all at once, I became aware of the vague shapes of coconuts bowed away 
from the wind. The formless umbra of tamanu trees emerged from the denser 
blackness beyond. Dawn was breaking. 

Abeam of light flashed from the treehouse. It stabbed this way and that in the 
rain-streaked darkness. It showed Panikiniki’s crossboom hanging from a limb; 
the canoe was gone. It turned up the path, and then we could see that most of the 
islet was swept clean of jungle, opening a clear path for the next comber to flood 
the island. Then the torch beam was turned up to a tall coconut, and I noticed 
how the fronds were all packed together tightly, as though seized, and how they 
were flung out horizontally away from the wind, seemingly motionless. They 
reminded me of a wet mop. 

We felt a degree of safety when we reached the first of the tamanus, for now, if a 
sea came, we might clamber up it in time to save ourselves. On a limb up the 
second tree I saw a huddled figure. Like all the tamanus, this one leaned at about 
forty-five degrees, so I had no trouble climbing it with Nga and handing her to 
Powell, whom the figure proved to be. When I left them Nga was bundled in a 
quilt, sitting in Powell’s lap and sheltered by his body. 



In the third tree, about twenty feet from the ground, a natural basket was formed 
by a fork in the main trunk and a number of smaller branches. In our fair- 
weather days it had been a favorite retreat for the cowboys, their private 
treehouse. I motioned for Johnny to climb to this fork, which she did, carrying 
her quilt wound round her waist; and I left her there alone, but with little concern 
for her, for she is as self-reliant as any grown person I know. 

Elaine, Jakey, and I crawled to the last two trees, where my house stood. The 
ladder was still there, so we had no difficulty in getting into the house. There, 
perched in the doorway, his chin to his knees, we found Pratt. I flashed my torch 
in his face, and, for just a moment, I almost laughed at his expression of 
unutterable disgust. He seemed to be trying to tell me: “So this is your peaceful 
South Seas! So this is your island paradise with its blue lagoon, its whispering 
palms, its balmy trade wind! Bah! and bah again!” 

We had been up the tree fully ten minutes before the next sea came. It was fairly 
light by then, so we could see it charging toward us at what seemed the speed of 
an express train. We saw it uproot a full-grown tamanu tree three feet in diameter 
at the base, roll it over and over, lift it on its crest, dash it through the ground- 
house and the remainder of the tank-house, and then pick up the mass of 
wreckage, and the pearling cutter as well, and roll them in a tangled mess some 
place out of sight to leeward. Thus, with the ground-house gone, the children and 
I lost everything we owned save for the clothes we wore and the few odds and 
ends in the treehouse; but we did not think of our loss: we thought only of the 
cutter and the death we had escaped! 

That sea was ten feet deep where it passed under the five tamanu trees, on the 
highest part of Anchorage Island, thirteen feet above normal sea level. It was 
followed by another comber, but now we realized that both were in reality one. 
Apparently a gigantic sea had rolled over the barrier reef from the north and had 
struck the point of Anchorage Island, there to divide so its west half flooded the 
island first, while its east half, slowed down by the current in the passage, 
followed a moment later. 

As the morning advanced, the wind, still blowing from the northeast, became 
fiercer; more and more frequently the combers swept the island from end to end, 
from six to fifteen feet deep where we had taken refuge. For a time we could see 
the lagoon beach, now not half so far away as formerly, for much of the land had 
been washed away. There was no sign of the wharf; the turmoil of water was 



indescribable. We could see the eastern beach too, and sometimes we caught 
glimpses of amorphous shapes like clouds in the driving rain, rising and 
subsiding as they rolled along the fringing reef; but soon the rain, thickening 
more and more, blotted out these shapes of monstrous reef combers; then the 
eastern beach was blotted out, and before long our circle of visibility did not 
extend beyond fifty yards. 

By ten o’clock the last of the jungle was swept clean away, leaving only a 
desolate bank of sand with here and there a wind-ravaged coconut tree, a pile of 
debris, a great lump of coral wrenched from the barrier reef. And how insecure 
that bank of sand seemed to us, clinging to three of the trees still left standing, 
isolated in the midst of an ocean homicidal in its frenzy! At least nine out of 
every ten coconut trees had been uprooted or blown down. I saw only one of 
them fall. I had been watching the trees to leeward and noticing that they did not 
sway this way and that, as they had done the night before, but rather leaned far 
over, as stiff and motionless as steel bows; but when they did move it was 
always in unison, like a class in calisthenics. Slowly they straightened up a little, 
their fronds, like arms, stretched out horizontally; then, when the wind shrieked 
down on them with renewed violence, they bowed their heads away from it with 
one accord. Watching them, but with my eyes fixed on a single tree, I saw that 
tree disappear suddenly! It gave me a little shock of panic until I realized that it 
had broken off some ten feet from the ground and had whipped down so fast that 
my eyes could not follow its fall. The tall coconut tree to windward leaned so far 
over that it sometimes touched the treehouse. We avoided looking at it or even 
thinking of it. 

Later in the morning visibility lessened until at times we could see no more than 
twenty or thirty feet. We thought the air was thick with rain until we tasted it and 
found it salt; then we knew that the wind was scooping up great masses of the 
sea itself and flinging them in all but solid sheets across the land. 

The little treehouse faced the wind bravely, and the roof stayed on, for I had 
lashed it down with sennit. Made of green, tough, and pliable nonu poles, the 
house leaned away from the wind: at times it folded down until its sides were at 
forty-five degrees from the vertical. I stood outside the doorway, braced between 
two limbs, within reach of the children should they need me. I watched the house 
bend and straighten in unison with the coconut trees. There was an uncanny 
harmony about this concurring obedience to the wind that fascinated me 
horribly; it fascinated me, too, to watch the wind, like a gigantic hand, push the 



house over until Pratt and the children, crouching in the doorway, would 
suddenly be outside the house, then watch the roof slowly move back until it was 
over their heads again. 

Shortly after ten o’clock I noticed that Elaine’s lips were blue, and then I 
remembered the remaining bottles of rum. In a moment I had crawled into the 
house and removed the patent cap from one of the bottles, which I handed to 
Pratt, then turned to glance at the barometer. It read 28:32! I tapped it, but the 
needle did not move, so I concluded that it would register no lower. Lord knows 
what the true pressure was—or what it dropped to later! Silly though it may 
seem, the barometer reading brought home to me more than did the wind and sea 
that we were experiencing a cyclonic storm. Perhaps unconsciously I had been 
defending my sanity by refusing wholly to admit the truth. Knowing well 
enough that we were in the midst of a hurricane, I had still refused to accept the 
fact unreservedly—I had allowed myself a ray of hope; but now the fact was 
forced on me, will or nill, by the barometer’s uncompromising statement: 28:32! 

When Pratt had taken a few swallows of rum I forced Elaine and Jakey to drink. 
They took the raw stuff like little martyrs. It worked wonders: in five minutes 
their lips were red, their eyes alight, and I believe they were beginning to enjoy 
the experience. Then I chose my time, climbed down the tree, and went to 
Powell. I found him cramped and numbed with cold, holding little Nga in arms 
too stiff to move. I put the bottle to his lips and he drank fully a quarter of it; 
then he smiled wanly and asked me by gestures if Vagus were gone. I replied 
with a nod, then held the bottle to Nga’s lips. She took the rum as bravely as the 
others, swallowing fully two ounces. 

Johnny came last. Incredible though it may seem, I found her in her little basket 
fast asleep! She was rolled up like a baby sloth, and bundled, head and all, in her 
quilt. When I wakened her she eyed me crossly, then turned to watch a big sea 
surge under her tree and sweep on into the desolation to leeward. She refused the 
rum at first, but I forced her to drink. Later she told me, almost fretfully, that the 
rum had kept her awake during the rest of the storm! 

In the meantime I had taken two or three good drinks myself. Perhaps they made 
me foolhardy. Anyway, I had been wondering what hope would remain to us if 
the five tamanu trees fell. I knew it would be possible to save myself. 
Unencumbered by the children, I could climb a stout coconut tree and lash 
myself to it; but I knew also that I could not leave my children for the next sea to 



devour; I could not abandon even three of them so as to take refuge in a coconut 
tree with one. If the five tamanu trees fell we should all die together. I am not 
trying to make myself appear a hero; a truly courageous man, in the last 
extremity, would have resolved to save one of the children. I have no such 
fortitude. To me death seemed infinitely preferable to life with the recollection of 
myself safe in a tree watching a great comber curl over three of my children, 
crash down, and sweep them to an awful death. 

It is for this reason that I studied carefully the effect of the seas on an enormous 
tamanu tree standing some fifty feet to windward. It would stand, I concluded, so 
long as there was any land left on Anchorage Island; but it grew straight, and its 
lowest limb was about twenty feet from the ground. 

There was rope in the treehouse. I cut off a few fathoms of it, again chose my 
time, then forced my way through the solid stream of wind to the base of the 
tree. Throwing the rope over the lowest limb was easier than it sounds, for the 
limb was on the lee side where an eddy of wind sucked the rope close to the 
trunk rather than carried it to leeward. After two or three attempts I got the rope 
over the limb; then I tied the two loose ends, climbed to the limb and, after 
pulling the loose ends up, tied knots in them at intervals of a foot or two. The 
loose ends, dropped close to the trunk, made a good-enough rope ladder. 

I felt relieved after this and for some time stayed on the limb to watch several 
combers wash across the land and to note their appearance under the five 
tamanus. It gave me a sinking feeling to see how close the rushing water came to 
the floor of the treehouse: there could not have been more than three feet of 
clearance! I noticed also that the seas were piling a barricade of fallen coconut 
trees, fully six feet high, along the west side of the five trees and heaping tons of 
sand beyond them. This weight would hold the roots down and thus strengthen 
the trees, but also it would bring the combers closer to the floor of the house. 
Then I looked on the east side of the trees to see that the roots were exposed 
where the water, piling over the barricade, had washed away the sand! It seemed, 
then, that the five tamanus could not stand much longer! 

Alarmed for my children, and with half a mind to bring them to the big tree at 
once, I climbed down the rope ladder and fairly let the wind fling me back to the 
five tamanus. And I got back none too soon; a big comber all but caught me as I 
was climbing to the treehouse. For a moment I was too excited to glance toward 
the big tamanu I had just left. Then, my eyes closed to slits, I peered into the 



driving rain to see that the tree had fallen! And, to make matters more desperate 
still, it was at that moment that the big limb, which I had my back to, broke off 
just above my head and crashed down on the treehouse! 

Some god must have looked down on us and saved us, for the house did not 
collapse immediately. The broken end of the limb, fully fourteen inches in 
diameter, pushed the roof down slowly, giving Pratt time to climb out and me 
time to pull out the two children. For a moment I held them between my legs 
while I glanced over the wrecked house toward Johnny’s tree. The smaller 
branches from the broken limb had fallen about her; now I saw her little hand 
reaching up from the natural basket in a silly, futile movement toward the 
branches, as though she were trying to brush them away. She was safe enough 
for the present, I decided; then I went to work lashing Elaine and Jakey to the 
limb I had been bracing my feet against. I tied the life ropes loosely, in 
bowknots, so I could free the children quickly if the tree fell. Pratt had climbed 
over the wrecked house to the next tree and tied himself to it. I slipped my life 
rope around the limb my back was to but kept the ends, untied, in my hands. 

During the morning the wind had shifted very slowly from northeast to north- 
northeast, but from 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. it swung round rapidly to the north. Those 
were three hours of madness. We experienced something there is no name for in 
my vocabulary: a sort of insane exhilaration. The violence of the wind had 
broken through our material bodies to enter our spirits, so that we experienced a 
wild madness in keeping with the storm itself. Often I wanted to scream louder 
than the wind, and I believe I did scream, but my poor voice was inaudible even 
to myself. Of physical sensations I remember only that my eyes burned. 

The storm center must have been close to us during those three hours. The wind 
had ceased to be a wind: it had become a monstrous thing that did not belong to 
the physical world. For three hours we ceased to live on the familiar Earth; and 
perhaps that is why I find it so difficult to describe the wind, the sea, our own 
emotions. Vocabularies were built around the things of everyday life; this thing 
belonged to the frenzied life of delirium. 

The air was now almost solid with salt water driving past us horizontally, 
seeming to drive its needles through us. The great combers hurled themselves 
beneath us almost continuously. There seemed to be no land. The tamanu trees 
were growing out of the sea itself growing out of a sea in turmoil indescribable. 
The wind lashed us and clawed us and yelled in our cars, and we bowed our 



heads away from it, bereft of our senses. 


I believed we were about to die in a wild nightmare of churning seas and 
tumbling masses of trees. More than once my brain took crazy flights, made me 
believe my tree was uprooted, was being rolled by the combers across the island 
and into the passage; and more than once I broke from my crazy hallucination to 
find myself holding my breath to keep from drowning. 

I thought that Desire was with me, clutching my arm and crying, “The children! 
The children! The children!” I must have been stark mad at times. 

About 2 P.M. the wind shifted suddenly from the north to the northwest, and it 
was then that the awful thing came down on us—but, alas! I have used my 
superlatives, I have no words left to describe it! When we saw the comber 
looming out of the rain we were struck dumb with awe. Distinctly I remember 
bracing myself for death. Its noise could be heard above the shrieking of the 
wind. It raged toward us, engulfing everything in its path. It seized the fallen 
tamanu tree and flung it at us. The comber loomed above us, its crest thirty feet 
high; and I remember closing my eyes tightly, gritting my teeth, holding my 
breath, feeling every nerve come up taut. 

There was a moment of crashing branches, rushing water. My life rope bit into 
my flesh; then the ends were jerked from my hands. The comber gripped me and 
rolled me under. It pitched me this way and that. My head struck something and 
I nearly lost consciousness. I thought I could hear my children screaming for 
help which I could not give; Desire’s cry: “The children! The children!” Then I 
was flung against a mass of branches. I clutched them blindly, held my breath, 
and felt the comber surge over my body. Then the water subsided; and then 
suddenly quietness! Even the wind seemed hushed! Was it death? 

It was fully a moment before I dared open my eyes. When I did so I saw Johnny, 
lying face downward directly below me, her arms and legs gripping the 
branches; I was wedged in among a great mass of branches high above her. Then 
I glanced this way and that, furtively, afraid of the havoc and death I felt certain 
the sea must have left in its wake. The big tamanu had been flung against the 
two in which the treehouse had stood; these had fallen, with Jakey, Elaine, and 
Pratt tied to their limbs, and then all three trees had been pitched against the one 
that Johnny was in. It had stood! Jakey, his arm badly lacerated, was clinging to 
his limb, which now lay horizontal, three feet off the ground. Elaine hung limply 



by her life rope, and I thought her dead until I had climbed down to her and 
found her only stupefied by the shock. Pratt was hanging to his limb, one rib 
broken, limp and unconscious. Johnny and Nga were unhurt, and Powell and I 
had escaped with scratches. 

In this predicament we awaited the next sea. 

The air had cleared with the shifting wind. Now we could see the havoc wrought 
on lovely, haunted Suvarrow. Everywhere was desolation—clean-swept sand 
with here and there a pile of rubbish, a fallen tree, the scattered stumps of 
coconut palms. Only a few trees had withstood the hurricane; among them was 
the tall coconut leaning over our house. We stared at this scene of ruin with dull, 
uncomprehending eyes; we awaited death with fierce impatience; our spirits 
were broken. We believed we had only to wait for the next comber, when the 
three remaining tamanus must fall and we must be swept to sudden, awful death! 

But there were no more combers! Perhaps the sudden shift in the wind had 
broken the offshore seas; perhaps once again a god had looked down on us. By 
evening the wind had abated to the force of a full storm. To us, huddled in the lee 
of the barricade of fallen trees, so soaking wet that we heeded not the rain, it 
seemed that there was no wind at all. 

Sometime during the night, when the noise of the storm had lessened, we heard, 
at first indistinctly, then louder and louder, the thunder of great combers rolling 
over the barrier reef. 



Chapter VII 


The life and sparkle are blown out of everything, from the living creatures to the 
soil itself. The palm fronds droop; the creeping things move sluggishly over the 
land; the sun seems pale and cold; the sea birds squat, disconsolate, on the piles 
of rubbish and the branches of fallen trees. The life has been blown out of even 
the tough nonu saplings: they break off at a touch. All the jungle is gone; now 
white coral sand reflects a lusterless glare. There are three barren sand cays 
where Anchorage Island once flung its living green against the sky. 

We are demoralized. We grope about the wreckage with mouths agape, eyes 
inflamed, tongues muttering all but senseless jabber. Our hands and feet are 
swollen; the least scratch pains and festers. Jakey’s lacerated arm is puffed and 
swollen; Elaine coughs continually; Pratt has stabbing pains in his side, where 
one of his ribs is broken. The terror of our experience, which we were too 
excited to feel during the hurricane, is haunting us now. We never speak of the 
storm, but we dream of it. After a long nightmare of surging seas and yelling 
wind I waken with a feeling of relief. Perhaps the dream is Nature’s way of 
relieving terror. 

Nor do we speak to Pratt of his lost Vagus. I fancy that his brain is so dulled by 
shock that he has no more than a hazy awareness of his loss. We see him stalking 
back and forth on the lagoon beach, his hand pressed to his painful side, for all 
the world like a bedraggled heron. Powell scratches in the rubbish heaps on the 
forlorn hope that he may find a stick of tobacco, a tin of tea, or a bar of soap. 
Formerly he suggested a sparrow hawk; now he reminds me of a badly scarred 
and ruffled barnyard rooster. 

Even the sky is lifeless. Until this morning the atmosphere was so thick that we 
could not see halfway across the lagoon. Yesterday, with a pale glimmer of 
sunlight, the air cleared a little; this morning, with the first bright sunlight in ten 
days, we can see the entire circle of Suvarrow’s reef, almost bare of land. There 
are six islets, now, where formerly there had been over twenty. Bird Islet, where 
the cowboys and I camped before the storm, has been washed clean off the reef; 
likewise Whale Islet, Brushwood, One Tree, six of the Seven Islands Group, and 
all of the Gull Group. Staring at the long stretches of bare coral reef, and at 
Anchorage Island itself, we begin to realize how narrowly we escaped being 



washed into the sea. Had the storm lasted three hours longer there would not 
have been a single islet left on Suvarrow’s reef! 


Perhaps the strangest sight of all is One Tree Islet, three miles along the reef to 
the northwest. Formerly it was of about ten acres, heavily wooded, and with one 
tall coconut tree rising above the lower growth. Now only the tall coconut tree is 
left. It seems to contradict every law of Nature, growing, as it does, out of the 
bare coral. Fancy it, with the empty horizon beyond, its roots planted in the 
seawashed barrier reef! 

Dead coconut crabs, sea birds, rats, and fish are strewn about the land and buried 
in the piles of rubbish. Last night we smelled their stench; today it is nauseous. 
The few birds that have survived can be had for the trouble of pulling them from 
their perches. They are so dazed and exhausted that they make no attempt to fly 
away when the children hunt them. At night the coconut crabs and the rats crawl 
like lice over the land; and they crawl over our bodies, unafraid. 

Coral boulders weighing tons have been wrenched from the reef and rolled on 
the land. The tank is full of stones and sand. The ground-house and the tank- 
house are tangled with debris of trees and nuts and fronds: a piece of roofing 
here, a corner post at the other end of the island, a strip of galvanized iron half 
buried in the sand. Panikiniki’s outrigger has been torn from her and a hole has 
been bashed in her side. The pearling cutter stands on her stem far down on the 
central islet. The wharf is gone. The treehouse is a mass of wreckage jammed 
and twisted about the broken branches of the fallen tamanus. Some of the things 
I left in the house have been salvaged. 

Last night Elaine, pressing her cold little body close to mine for warmth, 
whispered: “I love hurricanes, Papa!” 

We were sleeping, or trying to sleep, in the lee of the barricade that had been 
piled up on the west side of the tamanus. There was no shelter overhead, but the 
barricade protected us from the northwest wind. 

“Why do you love hurricanes, Elaine?” I asked, and the fat little darling told me, 
without guile, “Because now you let me sleep with you every night.” Then she 
coughed, as though unconsciously proving her right to be with me. Poor 
cowboy! Probably she is not seriously ill, but when she coughs it fills me with 
dread, reminding me of her mother’s death. 



Tonight we will sleep in the comfort of a house of sorts, for we have salvaged 
the frond roofing sheets from the treehouse and made a sort of cave of them—a 
roof with the eaves touching the ground, with the barricade at one gable end and 
the other end open. 

And tonight there will be fire! I should write it in capitals FIRE! When on 
Monday morning—the day after the hurricane—we checked over our 
possessions we found that we each had a box of safety matches. Powell’s, being 
in a tobacco tin, was less sodden than Pratt’s or mine; and because we were too 
weak to start a fire with a rubbing stick, we handled the matches with breathless 
care and put them in a dry, safe place. This morning we laid them in the sun and 
early in the afternoon we managed to kindle a fire! Now Powell is carrying 
pemphis stumps to the open fireplace, while Jakey and Johnny are clubbing sea 
birds to be roasted tonight. Our depressed spirits are reviving. Soon we will 
gorge on cooked meat, then we will lie back to watch the moon and stars, to feel 
the warmth of the campfire, and to be thankful that we are alive. 

This morning we followed the reef to where Whale Islet used to be. For a little 
time we moved about the clean-swept coral, as smooth as a tennis court save for 
here and there the stump of a pemphis bush; and of course we spoke of the rainy 
day when the tide had caught us on the reef and we had built a lean-to on Whale 
Islet and feasted on wide-awake eggs; and when we recalled the little shelter, the 
grove of coconuts, the familiar aspect of the storybook islet, it was with a feeling 
of loss precisely the same as one experiences on recalling to memory a dead 
friend. 

A cloud passed before the sun. I turned to see Johnny staring at Anchorage 
Island. A scowl of perplexity had creased her pretty brow. Following her gaze, I 
saw that a misty rain had drawn a gauze veil before the island; but still I could 
see the three sandbanks, the postlike stumps of coconut palms, the leafless 
tamanu trees. Before the hurricane Anchorage Island had appeared as a dense 
black oblong set against the sky; now it seemed too tenuous to belong to the 
material world. 

Johnny must have been thinking, or sensing, something of the kind, for, “Look, 
Papa,” she cried, “it is a ghost island now! I can see through it!” 


“Yes, Johnny,” I thought as we turned homeward, “it is like the ghost of 
Suvarrow Atoll. The jungle is gone: Bird Islet, Whale Islet, Brushwood, One 



Tree, and a score of others are gone—but new islets will grow up in their place. 
Call it regeneracy or call it reincarnation: the sea will pile sand on the site of 
Whale Islet; it will fill the channels in Anchorage Island; it will build up even 
the sand cays. Bush and trees will appear; the sea birds will multiply; and in a 
few years there will be a new Suvarrow rising above the wreckage of the old. 

For an atoll is a living island: it rebuilds the land the sea has detroyed.” 

So I reflected, and now, back in the cave-house, I have been wondering if, in this 
power of regeneracy, an atoll does not resemble a nation, a city, a human being. 
We see our great cities and we believe they will endure forever, but in truth we 
are being misled by the spectacular. Earthquakes, bombs, or the decay of a 
culture lay them low. Then comes a dormant period, but eventually the cities 
build up again, different than before but, we hope, better. We should not moan 
too loudly over the loss of our material gods, for “indeed we die many deaths 
before we die,” whether we be cities or atolls or men, and only through these 
deaths are we goaded out of our complacence and sloth and forced to rebuild 
above the wreckage of the past. 

And I have been wondering if the loss of my personal property is not a blessing. 

I am beginning to feel a kind of angry pleasure because these household gods are 
gone. The hurricane has been Nature’s way of cleaning the old deadwood from 
Suvarrow, and incidentally I have profited by losing my own deadwood. I had 
chests full of instruments, tools, manuscripts, keepsakes, rags and tags, books 
that would never be read again but were kept as sentimental reminders of the 
past—deadwood that had burdened me for years but that I had never had the 
fortitude to throw away. Like Christian, I carried on my back a burden of 
possessions, never realizing that the effort to carry them was out of proportion to 
the pleasure they could give me. Now I am grateful that they are gone. Let these 
reminders of the past be forgotten; let them molder with the wreckage of 
Suvarrow. Let the past be forgotten lest it fasten its cumbrous fingers on the 
future. 

Heat, flies, sweat, exhaustion. The heat pours down on the white sand and is 
splashed back in seething whorls and eddies. There is no shade except in the 
cave-house and in the tent Powell and Pratt have made from Vagus’s staysail. 
There is no escaping the heat and the blinding sun until night brings delectable 
coolness, darkness, relaxation, rest. 


Millions of flies have bred in the bird carcasses; they are so thick that we seldom 



attempt to eat save in the gray dawn and the late twilight. To escape them we 
close the open end of the cave-house with old matting, then crawl in the 
darkened hole to relax for a brief moment or two. 

Sweat makes our skin itch and causes inflamed spots under the armpits and in 
the groins. The salt water aggravates the burning itch. Our only relief is from 
pouring the rancid water from old green coconuts over our bodies. When it rains, 
and the fresh-water pools on the north point are filled, we wallow in them by the 
hour. Pure luxury! 

Exhaustion! Every day, by four o’clock, I believe I have come to the end of my 
tether. Perhaps I have been along the reef as far as Turtle Islet and returned with 
a heavy load of fish. I have husked fifty utos, worked on Panikiniki, improved 
the cave-house, hunted tropic birds with Jakey. Such would be a fair example of 
a day’s work. At four o’clock I have a huge pile of food under the leafless 
tamanu trees. It must be cooked for our meal tonight and our breakfast 
tomorrow. 

Well, we have a native oven made of a brick-lined pit. We kindle a fire in it, and 
when the fire has burned down we simply throw in the food: birds without 
picking or gutting, fish without scaling or cleaning, husked utos, and the buds of 
coconuts. Then we cover the oven with pieces of roofing, heap sand on top, and 
heave a great sigh of relief. In the meantime Jakey and Johnny have brought in 
enough pemphis stumps to keep the fire going all night, so we have only to lay 
out our mat by the fire, with a log for a pillow, and then, if there is fresh water on 
the point, bathe. 

It is evening. Already we are feeling a little better. With each degree of darkness 
our spirits revive. Now the flies are gone. Now the heron and the sparrow hawk 
come from their camp on the central islet. We feed—that’s the only word for it. 
We build up the fire, and we sprawl out on our ragged mat to feel the cool night 
breeze on our half-naked bodies, to fair worship it, almost to cry from sensuous 
happiness—and also to dread a little the coming of tomorrow’s sun. 

This is our life. The cowboys are well and happy; Jakey’s arm has healed; 
Elaine’s cough is better; Pratt’s broken rib is knitting; the old man’s beard grows 
apace. In many ways we are enjoying ourselves; but oh! the misery of dreaming 
of food, food, food! If Satan should offer me a wish for my immortal soul I am 
afraid that I should be sorely tempted to make as bad a bargain as did the poor 



man who asked for a black pudding. I should sell my soul for a tin of bully beef, 
an onion, a cup of tea, and a slice of bread plastered with butter and jam! ... 
Away with you, gluttonous thought! I shall take the advice I gave to Heron Pratt. 
“The trouble with you, John,” I said, “is that you eat too much. All this 
gormandizing on coconuts and fish is making you liverish. You wanna eat less, 
like me and the cowboys. Mortify the flesh. Release the spiritual man through 
fasting, like the yogis do... .Do you want to hear some things about the yogis?” 
To this Heron Pratt replied with a piping laugh full of irony and contempt. 

Our life is not altogether miserable. When a fern leaf springs up from the barren 
sand we hold a pagan holiday. Yesterday we saw a coconut tree in bloom, and 
we cheered the brave tree as though it were a hero—as in fact it was. I 
sometimes think we are beginning to love the new Suvarrow as much as we did 
the old one. We admire its pluck. The sea has laid it low, but it will grow up 
again: even now it is shooting up its first buds of renascent life. 

Hurry Home returned on March 25. She had been blown hither and thither and 
yon, escaping the hurricane, but pitched, bashed, and battered by the nasty 
weather on the edge of the storm, her chronometer run down, her radio battery 
exhausted, her almanac of a previous decade, her Epitome of a previous century, 
her captain half blind, her first officer an old woman. But there was plenty to eat, 
for schools of albacore followed the ship, and there were plenty of coconuts 
aboard for the first few weeks. 

After the hurricane Captain Prospect started hunting for Manihiki in earnest, 
believing that if he didn’t find it he ought at least to sight Nassau or some other 
island. He sailed on the port tack and he sailed on the starboard tack; he sailed to 
the north, the south, the east, the west; he saw land birds and he saw flotsam 
from the hurricane—but he saw no land. 

Captain Prospect became worried, and when his coconuts gave out and his water 
ran low the worry waxed into something like a blue funk; and finally, when he 
decided to sail for Samoa, and a day or two later sighted an utterly unknown 
island, the blue funk assumed the symptoms of panic. 

“Land ho!” Tagi sang out from the masthead. 

“Where away?” cried the captain. 


“Dead ahead!” 



“What land is it?” 


“I don’t know!” 

As they approached the land their panic increased. Here and there were a few 
tiny islets, a few bedraggled coconut trees, not resembling any land in this part 
of the Pacific. It was like finding an elephant in one’s garage. One sees the 
elephant but at the same time refuses to believe the evidence of one’s senses. 
Something clicks in one’s brain. Perhaps one screams. Certainly one swears 
never to drink again. 

“Damn it!” the captain yelled. “There’s no land here! Haven’t I been dozens of 
times to every island in this part of the world? This island doesn’t belong here! 
It’s a mistake—no! it’s a mirage!” 

“Uriia—hurricane! ” said Takataka, and then they began to understand that the 
few sandbanks were in fact all that remained of once luxuriant Suvarrow. When 
they had rounded the northeast point, where the Gull Group used to be, and had 
seen Anchorage Island reduced to three little cays, they concluded that we must 
have perished. It did not seem possible that anyone could have lived through a 
disaster that caused such wreckage. Captain Prospect wrote in his log: 

March 24, 13h: Observed Seven Islands, Suvarrow, presenting a badly battered 
appearance, evidently having been visited by a violent gale, which same Hurry 
Home encountered and weathered handsomely on February 21 at a position 150 
miles NNW or thereabouts. 

18h: Light breeze, and still too far off to make the entrance before dark. Am 
standing off to the NE for the night. 

March 25, 5h: Stood in for Anchorage Island, but the SE breeze too light to stem 
the ebb so am lying in the offing. 

lOh: Anchorage Island has the appearance of being badly swept by a hurricane, 
with no sign of life anywhere. There are now three small cays with a few 
coconut stumps where formerly there had been a rich little island of some twenty 
five acres. On Hurry Home’s departure for Nassau and Manihiki on January 24 
there were left on the island Mr. R. Frisbie, a Yankee, together with his son and 
three daughters, who ranged in ages up to ten years. Hurry Home has now 
returned to Suvarrow for water and repairs, has been two months at sea, having 



failed, due to the storm, to make Manihiki. 


As near as can be observed, the following islands have been totally swept away: 
Whale, the Bird Cays, Brushwood, One Tree, Bird, two of the Tou Islets, New, 
and all of the Gull Group, while of the Buckland Cays there is not a trace and of 
Seven Islands all that remains is a small patch of sand with a few dead trees. 
Anchorage Island has been reduced to one tenth its former area. The seas have 
swept two wide channels through it, giving it the appearance of three small cays. 

When the captain wrote this entry he did not know that we had miraculously 
survived, nor did he know of Powell and Pratt and the loss of Vagus. When we 
went aboard Hurry Home he told us he had expected to go ashore to hunt for and 
bury our bodies. 

Hurry Home has sailed, taking Powell and Pratt to Rarotonga if Captain Prospect 
can find Rarotonga. We have been left behind, at our own request, for there was 
less than a drum of water aboard and very little food. The captain would have 
taken us had we decided to go, but he seemed relieved when we told him we 
would wait for his return. As it is, he has left us a little tobacco, tea, and soap, so 
we feel ourselves well off indeed. 

The cowboys and I paddled out to Hurry Home when she was weighing her 
anchor. Takataka and Oli-Oli gave us a hand hoisting our heavy case of books 
from the hold and lowering it to the canoe; then we went aft to shake hands with 
the captain, Powell, and Pratt, and to wish them a prosperous journey. 

“I know you will be all right ashore,” the captain said as we moved to the rail. 
“ITl come back for you as soon as I’ve gone on the slip and made a round of the 
Lower Group. You can look for us in the latter part of April, let us say—or in 
May or June or thereabouts.” 

The cowboys and I piled into Panikiniki. We paddled a little way off, and we 
raised our voices in three rousing cheers when Hurry Home’s mainsail went up, 
three more when her jib and her mizzen were set, and three final ones when her 
staysail was hoisted, bottom side up... . But we were very lonely this evening, 
with Powell and Pratt gone, sitting on the outer beach of a desert island in mid¬ 
ocean, watching Captain Prospect’s ship sail away to dissolve gradually in the 
gray evening light. 

“When the next ship comes we must leave,” Johnny said as we sat by the 



campfire that night. “Jakey’s pants—and yours too—are full of holes, and my 
sisters and I have only these ragged old dresses. We must buy plenty of pretty 
clothes.” 

“That means money, Johnny.” 

“Yes,” the mother of the family replied thoughtfully; “we’ll all have to go to 
work for our uncle ... What is his name?” 

“Uncle Sam.” 


THE END